The Leper of Saint Giles
First published in the UK 1981, Macmillan London Ltd
This edition 2000, Warner Books
Quite an ecclesiastical feel this month, with Ellis Peters and G. K. Chesterton turning up in my reading list.
It’s now 1139, two years after the journey to Wales described in A Morbid Taste. Cadfael is still happy in his Shrewsbury herbarium, now assisted by the clumsy Brother Oswin. His erstwhile helper Brother Mark is now installed at the nearby leper chapel of Saint Giles, which is where the story begins.
The plot centres on a marriage of convenience scheduled to take place in Shrewsbury Abbey. The Norman Baron Huon de Domville is to marry Iveta de Massard, unifying the lands their families control. Iveta has no relatives on her father’s family so is a charge of her unpleasant maternal uncle and aunt, the Picards. Domville is a nasty piece of work, much too old for his child-bride Iveta.
‘A massive, brutal face, muscled like a wrestler’s arm, unsculpted, unfinished. A face that should not have had a subtle mind behind it, to make the man even more formidable, but undoubtedly had.’
Domville’s first act in Shrewsbury is to strike a newly arrived and mysterious leper known only as Lazarus, an act even his own retinue finds shocking.
Meanwhile, one of Domville’s three squires, Joscelin Lucy, loves Iveta and is determined to extricate her from marrying Domville. The Picards get wind of this and have him dismissed and then accused of theft. The stage is set for a murder…
There are obvious similarities between Leper and Morbid Taste. Both have a young man, wrongfully accused of murder, who evades capture but has to remain nearby because he’s in love. In fact in both books, uniting lovers is Cadfael’s object as much as solving murders. There are other similarities I won’t discuss as I don’t want to give the game away.
However, the investigative aspects to this story are more interesting than in the first novel. Cadfael’s scene-of-crime work actually leads somewhere this time around, and he does some spadework to earn the solution, instead of simply frightening the culprits into a confession.
The leper-house is lightly described, which is an approach I greatly prefer in historical novels – nothing is more annoying than research piled on with a trowel. And Peters is a gifted writer, creating some effective action scenes as well as some affecting moments of stillness. The scenes depicting the growing friendship between Lazarus and Joscelin are especially good.
A much stronger book than the first.
Final destination: Back to the library
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.