ONE CORPSE TOO MANY
By Ellis Peters
The Mysterious Press (Warner Books)
Mysterious Press first printing March 1994
Copyright © 1979 by Ellis Peters (1913-1995);
All Rights Reserved.
More people are probably familiar with Brother Cadfael, the 12th century Benedictine monk who
is hero of this second chronicle of his adventures, through the WGBH-TV series MYSTERY than have read the novels on which the series is based.
Ed. Note: The late, multi-award winning Dame Edith Pargeter wrote under the pseudonym Ellis Peters. I enjoyed some of her historical novels way back when, so I know whereof Al was writing in 2003. More info at the Wikipedia page for Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters).[JTC 2021] Let's let Al continue in July 2003:
By now I've read or listened to more than half of the series. This one is a particularly strong
entry. The Cadfael novels have as their backdrop a civil war being raged between
the legitimate ruler, the hot-blooded and impetuous King Stephen, and his cousin,
the self-proclaimed Empress Maude. Their fortunes ebb and flow across the landscape,
and the Brother Cadfael mysteries generally open with a recapitulation of events
on the broader canvas of the civil war. From there we get some local color.
Peters really is very good at this sort of thing, and as a result the Brother
Cadfael novels can be a pretty painless way to learn a little British history.
Not all of the characters are historical, but many are. The Abbey, too, is an
actual place, though gone to ruin now.
In ONE CORPSE
TOO MANY, the fortunes of war have hit particularly close to home. King Stephen
has just taken the castle at Shrewsbury. Its defenders, loyal to the Empress,
have been decimated. Almost none have escaped. Stephen, normally an easy-going
monarch, slow to anger and quick to forgive, knows he has to make an example
of these men. So he has them hanged.
The monks of
the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Shrewsbury, then, have the sad responsibility
of preparing ninety-four corpses for burial. The Abbot selects Cadfael, formerly
a soldier and Crusader before taking his vows, to see to the grim task. But
when Cadfael comes at last to count the men laid out in the chapel, he discovers
that there are ninety-five, not ninety-four. The extra man has been strangled,
not hanged. In other words, he has been murdered. Cadfael determines to get
to the bottom of the mystery, with Stephen's blessing. The King is, after all,
by no means pleased to have been made an accessory to someone else's crime.
It's up to Cadfael to sort through a puzzling and seemingly unrelated collection
of clues, including a girl in boy's clothing, a treasure gone missing, and a
single dried herb, to locate a pitiless but clever killer.
read about King Stephen in a number of other books in the series, it's interesting
to actually have the young monarch brought onstage. This novel also introduces
Cadfael's foil, Hugh Beringar, who will one day become the Sheriff of Shrewsbury
and Cadfael's closest friend. But in this book they have yet to establish their
mutual trust. We are also introduced to Hugh's future wife, the lovely young
Aline Siward, whose brother is among those executed by King Stephen.
Some might find
the Cadfael books a bit slow going, plotwise - after all, as with science-fiction
there's a good bit of background detail to fill in concerning 12th century life.
Personally, I find it fascinating. Peters characterizes quite well, and seems
to have a complete grasp of the politics of the time. Cadfael himself is a delightful
creation, although, as is the case with many series heroes, he changes little
from book to book. In the WGBH series Cadfael was well played by Derek Jacobi,
a distinctive actor. When I read one of these delightful books, however, I hear
the cadence of the Audiobook narrator, Patrick Tull, whose rendition of Cadfael's
Welsh-tinged English has enlivened many hours of my commute.
who are looking for something a little different may well find the canny Brother
Cadfael, who would have been right at home as a forensic investigator in the
20th or even 21st century, to their liking. He is indeed a rare Benedictine.
Also by Al Sirois today: Recent Raves
Holes (a film) deserves a review in itself. Great stuff, and top-notch performances
from Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight. I've got the book, so I think I'll read
and review that
(After three chapters, I'm loving it.)
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas The animated movie, from Dreamworks, was surprisingly enjoyable. Mmmmm...
Although, having said that, see what I think of Terminator
Time Hunt. Here's something different:An online treasure-hunt. The bonus is, the site is simply beautiful, and it has top-flight contributors, like Rupert Sheldrake and Terry Pratchett, et many al. NOTE 2021: Website no longer available? [JTC].
Wanna talk to John Lennon? Visit [Link Deleted 2021 JTC] the John Lennon Artificial Intelligence Project. Guarantee: It's like nothing else online. Bonus: Another dynamite web interface. Don't like John? Then talk to Jack the Ripper! [Link Deleted 2021 JTC]
Less Than Good:
Ah-node's Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines. Let us consider this film. Frankly, for my money they could and should have stopped at Terminator 2:
Judgement Day, because that was a much better movie. Essentially T3
is exactly the same as T2 but less original. Lots of explosions and shooting,
lots of Arnie stalking around looking grim. Some good moments, and I can't say
that the film really sucks -- but clearly it's played for laughs at some
points, and this is a big mistake. The obvious rib-pokes rob the film of a lot
of the suspense its antecedants possessed, and despite the excellent fx (including
a really bitchin' scene with the female Terminator magnetized to a particle-accelerator
and melting into it) the film never really recovers. Overall, not a bad way
to spend your entertainment money, and the story does add a few new things --
but none of the characters are as interesting as Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor.
And even the new Terminator isn't as cool as Robert Patrick in T2, for
all that she is a major babe.
Killing Time By Caleb Carr
was originally published November, 2000. It seems to me to be Jules Verne redux. This uninspired sf novel by Caleb Carr, author of the excellent
historical thrillers The Alienist (reviewed by me in the February 2003 issue)
and Dark Angel, reads like Verne's Master of the World updated
to the 21st century. Instead of Robur, however, we are served up a pair of genetically
manipulated (and sexually abused) siblings who are out to convince the world
of 2023 that its blind dependence on the Internet is going to lead to destruction.
To prove their point, they and a cadre of conniving scientists travel the world
in a flying/swimming super-vehicle like Robur's Albatross (though, oddly,
never named or even really well described), tampering with historical information.
They have "proved" that George Washington was murdered, that Stalin was complicitous
in the Nazi death camps, and so on. They intend to reveal their fakery at a
critical juncture, at which point the world will supposedly blink in astonishment
and mend its credulous ways. But the world has grown so jaded and gullible that
no one believes the fake information really is fake. The narrator is
a psychological profiler caught up in the siblings' scheme, and vamped by the
gorgeous, murderous sister. But even on paper these two have no chemistry, and
the book limps along to an aggravating deus ex machina conclusion. There's
nothing new here, and seasoned sf readers will be yawning before the novel is
halfway through. A dreary come-down from the brilliance of The Alienist.
I suspect that this is an early novel, written before The Alienist and
Dark Angel, and released to capitalize on their success. It's a trunk
novel that should have stayed there.