One Corpse Too Many, by Ellis Peters
The second novel  of the Brother Cadfael series, this one does not involve very much travel for the main character, who is every bit as relentless and complicated and just as the previous novel, making allies and helping two young couples while dealing with an ugly political divide and the dangers of a siege at the start of the Anarchy in mid 12th century England. The novel begins with Cadfael’s abbey under siege by King Stephen, who in his rage seeks to make an example of the brave garrison that stood up to him in Shrewsbury. The result is 94 hung bodies, only 95 bodies are counted, and Cadfael will not rest until the murder is solved, and neither will an enigmatic ally who has his own complicated game to play that involves proving his decency and letting a fiance who is on one side of the conflict go so that he may seek the hand of another on the same side as himself.
As might be expected in a novel that I enjoy reading, there are a lot of interesting characters shown here, many of them complicated in nature. Many of the characters show a certain cynicism about authority, which tends to be natural when it breaks down over intraelite struggles for dominance, as is the case here. Yet most readers will not necessarily be looking for deeper religious or political analysis (although it is easy to find–this novel being far more notable for its commentary on secular politics, and the trial by ordeal) but rather a tight plot, excellent character descriptions, and a vivid historical experience, and this novel brings all of that in spades (quite literally in this case).
Even only two novels into the series, there are some patterns that are shaping up to give Peters’ work a consistent feel–Cadfael is clever, resolute, and rather disinclined to involve himself in politics. Here he meets what appears to be a long-term ally through a cat and mouse game where both show themselves to be immensely observant and also very tricky. Readers who liked the first novel in the series, and aren’t made squeamish by matter-of-fact discussions of strangling techniques and war crimes like the mass butchering of a defeated garrison will enjoy this novel whether looking for a satisfying historical mystery or a deeply thought-provoking novel.
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