Derek Jacobi, star of the television adaptation of the "Brother Cadfael" series, reads this audio recording of Ellis Peters' medieval whodunnit.
Whilst in Ludlow, Cadfael also finds himself embroiled in the hunt for a party of three young persons missing after the attacks on Worcester and known to be heading for Shrewsbury, at which destination they have failed to arrive. With a bitter freeze and the winter's first snows on hand, there are grave concerns for their safety and well-being. One of the three is subsequently found dead - obviously killed and dumped in a watery (now icy) grave on the very night that the good monk's patient was attacked.
Unlike many another Cadfael tale, this one moves along with a gripping sense of urgency and with a fair amount of tension and excitement building gradually as things proceed. It contains Ellis Peters' usual meticulous attention to both historical and narrative detail and constitutes as riveting - and entertaining - a story as you are likely to find. As always, Cadfael is aware of details overlooked by others and never once loses sight of the smaller issues that are wont to become subsumed into the larger, weightier ones. He (and the regular reader) is provided with an unlooked-for reward in this volume, too.
This book has to be one of the very best of the Cadfael Chronicles and is unreservedly recommended for lovers of the genre. Its story line stands somewhat apart from others in the series, making it fairly unimportant where it is read in the sequence.
Now to the review proper. If this is the first Cadfael you are reading, you might find understanding some expressions and the society he lives and works in somewhat hard to follow. Basically, the story is set in the middle of a bitter English civil war between two grandchildren of William the Conqueror. Cadfael is a Welsh soldier turned monk. His chosen specialization in herbs and gardening is combined with his knowledge about warfare (and wounds inflicted by men on each other) and the real world to make him a formidable medieval detective. Furthermore, as a monk, he is relatively protected (as far as one could be protected) from physical harm on either side. Cadfael's duties keep him mostly in one town - Shrewsbury and its immediate environs, but he has been known to travel. While most of the Cadfael mysteries are set close to Shrewsbury (a real town near the Welsh border), in this particular book Cadfael will travel closer to Ludlow, a major castle to the south of Shrewsbury. During his sojourn, he will have to solve several mysteries, such as the identity of the young woman he finds dead and encased in ice (hence the title), the name of her murderer and his motive, the whereabouts of two noble orphans whose uncle belongs to the opposing side in the war, and the whereabouts of a band of robbers terrorizing the countryside. Oh, and find out what exactly happened to a badly injured young monk.
If you have read Cadfael before, you will still find this book enthralling because of the deft way it weaves politics, religion, petty (and not-so-petty) crimes against a sharply delineated local backdrop.
Some readers find Ellis Peters's endless descriptions of the countryside boring. I find them enthralling and only wish her publishers would get the maps right in the paperback versions (I have discovered the map for one book in another). One of the charms of the Cadfael series is the discovery of the Shropshire geography in medieval times, made all the stronger by the fact that the now deceased author was a local. Geography in virtually every Cadfael story is crucial to the plot, and not just backdrop as it is in so much historical fiction. And yes, geography - notably the topography and the weather - was very important to medieval people. It mattered which path you chose in the face of an approaching storm - one choice led you safely (if rather cold) to a place of refuge such as an abbey or a cottager's farm, while another could lead you straight to bandits.
Virtually every Cadfael book has young lovers in it, and this is no exception. Here the young lovers are crucial however to the mystery, and their romance comes about as part of the plot, not incidental to it nor preceding it. If you don't like any romance in your mystery, I don't think this particular title offends very much - the relationship is hinted at, and is not a major part of the story.
This particular title, along with ONE CORPSE TOO MANY, is strongly recommended to lovers of historical mysteries.