this is the 231st in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters, © 1982, Fawcett Crest paperback 1984,
5th in Brother Cadfael series
I’ve read many of these Cadfael mysteries, so I’m fairly familiar with the characters, location, historical period. Still, I spent some time reading entries in Robin Whiteman’s The Cadfael Companion to refresh my memory on the historical background since I didn’t recall much about historical events in 1139 when Stephen and Maud were fighting for the crown.
It’s a hard winter. Marauding bandits have been making it even harder for those who hold cotsteads away from the towns. Families are murdered, livestock taken or butchered on the spot. With soldiers away defending King Stephen’s claim to the throne, there is little the locals can do in defense of their property or lives.
Cadfael goes in search of a party of nuns and two older children who have gone missing while trying to escape from a city to the south. Rumor has them attempting to reach Shrewsbury but they’ve not arrived. A Brother of the church, badly wounded, may hold the clue to their whereabouts, but he cannot remember anything. While searching, Cadfael finds a young girl frozen in a stream. Who is she? Is she one of those they have been searching for? How did she come to be there?
This may be my favorite of the Cadfael books I’ve read (all but the final two). The plot, characters, weather and setting combine in the most interesting way of any of the them; mystery, history and human nature are woven together to create a fine puzzle. This one may not be typical in that it has quite a bit of action, but I found it added to my enjoyment of the book.
This is such an excellent series, it’s worth reading and, probably, rereading. This one is quite good and highly recommended.