The Hermit Of Eyton Forest, by Ellis Peters
Technically, this is the fourteenth novel in the Brother Cadfael series , as I have not been able to get the twelfth novel in the series yet from the library, and I accidentally skipped the thirteenth volume. The plot of this book is pretty straightforward. At least some of the mysteries are fairly obvious to those who are familiar with how the novels of the series work, and everyone acts more or less in accordance with their character, with Cadfael being caught between his loyalty to his order, to his friend Sheriff Hugh Beringer, and to the young lovers he encourages and befriends. Indeed, the subject of loyalty and betrayal is an essential aspect of this story. Cadfael does not wish to betray the confidence of the young people who are relying on his silence, or his friend the sheriff, or his vow as a monk which is continually violated by his travels. Still other characters face even more serious questions of betrayal, like betraying one’s parents or grandparents, or one’s sworn liege lord and his (or her) secrets.
Without revealing too much of the plot or its twists, it is important to note that the story centers around two intersecting plots, one of them involving a young lord whose grandmother wants to marry him off to a considerably older heiress who he finds disgustlingly old, even though shes actually quite a decent lady herself, and who is willing to stop at little, including kidnapping and serious injury and property destruction, to get her way. Meanwhile, one of the tools of her ambitions is a wandering hermit with a scampish assistant and some secrets of his own. This being a Brother Cadfael mystery, we know there will be some murders, and likely some marriage, and we get these, albeit in darkly ironic ways. The novel is a satisfying read, but it leaves one with a heavy heart, as Cadfael is not his usual lighthearted self, but rather seems to be increasingly caught between his sense of duty and loyalty and his insatiable curiosity and terrible timing.
This story, over and over, plays with the boundaries of civil and religious law. Characters stretch themselves when there is something they really want to do, and plead an inability to do anything when it is not in their interests. Indeed, although much of the plot runs along consistent lines, it does so with a clear eye to larger questions of justice, and multiple points of comparison. As a novel, its most compelling feature is a sense of divine providence that causes the reader to reflect on the complexity of questions of justice and mercy, law and love. As these complexities are present in our lives, it is little wonder that they should fill my reading as well.
 See, for example: