St. Peter's Fair (Cadfael Chronicles Book 4) by Ellis Peters
Publication Date: January 1, 1981
Length: 219 pages
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
This series has always interested me due to its unique time period, well written dialogue, and intriguing plots. The continuation of Brother Cadfael's story along with recurring characters make it a must read, I have to check in and see what happens next. I struggle to read new authors for this reason.....I just love series books! And Ellis Peters has such a good grasp of vocabulary and description of the medieval period I always feel like I'm actually there myself.
This story centers around real events, (as do all the Cadfael Chronicles), during the period known as The Anarchy. King Stephen and Empress Matilda are still warring over who will rule England, and the monks in Shrewsbury are caught in the middle. Empress Maud is trying to gain support for an invasion and takeover along with her brother, Robert of Gloucester and his son-in-law, Ranulf, the Earl of Chester, who she hopes will join the cause. Ranulf has not decided which side to join, Stephen or Maud, and is interested in weighing his options. In the summer of 1139, everyone in Shrewsbury is eagerly awaiting the start of the St. Peter's Fair.
The story is broken down into sections: The Eve of the Fair, The First Day of the Fair, The Second Day of the Fair, The Third Day of the Fair, and After the Fair. At the beginning of the story we find the monks preparing for the three day event which will take place in and around the Abbey. This has been a long standing tradition, one in which the Abbey stands to benefit monetarily from the revenue generated. Geoffrey Corviser, the town provost, wants the order to allow for some of the money raised to go to damages incurred from last year's siege of the town but Abbot Radulfus is unmoved. He states that this is not the responsibility of the Abbey and that no money will be given.
Tensions begin to rise between the townspeople who want the money for repairs and the merchants of the fair, who are caught in the middle and don't want to be seen sharing the profits and going against the traditions of the Abbey. When a wealthy wine merchant, Thomas of Bristol is pushed to the breaking point, he hits one of the young men with his staff and a riot begins. Later, when Thomas is found naked, murdered, and stripped of his clothes, Phillip Corvisor, the young man he assaulted, is charged with his death.
Meanwhile, Thomas's niece, Emma, is grappling with the shock of her Uncle's death and feeling the weight of both the murder and the realization that she must make decisions regarding the wine business and her future. During all of the happenings, Cadfael takes Emma under his wing and vows to help her get to the bottom of her Uncle's murder. He is not convinced the right man has been arrested and charged. Due to clues uncovered regarding the state of the body and what appears to be the break in and search of Thomas and Emma's booth by an unknown culprit, he thinks there may be much more depth to the story and that the murderer is using the convenient surroundings of the riot and Phillip's involvement to mask a more sinister plot. As more is revealed, Emma realizes she may be in danger herself and must be careful as she works to uncover the truth.
While the story had all the same elements of the three previous books, I found myself a bit bored with this one which is why I only gave it three out of five stars. It was disappointing because I look forward to being entertained when I pick up one of these and they are usually an enjoyable break from longer, epic books. The story's setting at the fair just wasn't terribly interesting and the main characters didn't excite me. Most of the real action didn't get going until late into the plot and even then, it wasn't that suspenseful. Cadfael didn't factor into many parts of the story that I normally expect and so I found myself wishing we'd seen and heard more from him.
My favorite part was at the very end when the murderer and the motives behind the crime were revealed. I thought it was clever and brought some more history into the mix, which I always love. So even though it was a bit of a slog to get there, the ending was pretty satisfying. I will definitely be continuing with the series, but will probably take another break from it for a bit. The next story looks more interesting just based on the title, The Leper of St. Giles. Cadfael must seek help from the nearby leper colony and that alone sounds fascinating.
The Cadfael Chronicles are well written, classic mysteries, but there are twenty so I'm sure there are bound to be a few that won't make the very top of my favorite list. They are still worth the read though.
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