If you enjoy cozies with a dose of historical accuracy, look no further than Ellis Peters’s splendid Brother Cadfael mysteries. Wise, worldly Brother Cadfael (a soldier and a sailor before he entered religious life around age forty) uses his keen intellect, understanding of human nature, and warm heart to solve crimes in and around the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.His adventures take place in the twelfth century, when King Stephen and Empress Maud vied for control of England, and religious traditions were often the primary unifying force.
Ellis Peters is the nom de plume of Edith Pargeter, a self-taught historian from Shropshire, England. During World War II, she joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service (“Wrens”) and earned a British Empire Medal. Over the course of her career, she wrote many books, but the Cadfael Chronicles are the best-loved. They were also adapted into a highly acclaimed British TV show starring Derek Jacobi. It’s smart, fun, and preserves the spirit of the books. If you’d like to give it a try, you can watch it here.
As a mystery writer, I find much to admire in these books. Most are slim volumes packed with detail, wit, and finely drawn characters.Ellis Peters writes of genuinely devout men, but her narratives never turn pedantic or preachy. And lest you fear these books are entirely male-dominated, let me assure you there are several wonderful female characters, include the remarkable Sister Magdalen of a neighboring nunnery. Like Cadfael, she came late to religious life, and learned a few things in her former scandalous occupation.