Monk's Hood


Ellis Peters


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

January 15, 2021

onk's Hood is the third novel in the string of Brother Cadfael mystery novels set at Shrewsbury Abbey in medieval England. Brother Cadfael was a former crusader, there are hints that he was a successful soldier in the Holy Land, but years ago he gave up the sword and returned to his hometown to become a member of the abbey. Due to his world journeys and previous secular career, Cadfael is a realistic judge of human ambition, greed and crime, but also human qualities of human kindness, justice and forgiveness. Cadfael uses this worldly knowledge to solve crimes in the hotbed of crime that was 12th century England.

Brother Cadfael works as the healer at Shrewsbury Abbey. He has knowledge of herbs and potions and plants that he grows in his extensive garden. One such plant is Monk's Hood. The oil from this plant, when rubbed into the skin of aching joints or painful muscles, brings a numbness and soothing relief. Cadfael mixes his Monk's Hood with mustard and other hot spices, because the spices bring healing heat while the Monk's Hood brings numbness. This mixture results in a strong scent and it leaves tough stains, but the when rubbed on bare skin, it is an effective remedy. However Monk's Hood is not to be ingested, because it is a deadly poison if swallowed.

Master Bonel has moved his family into a home owned by Shrewbury Abbey. Bonel have promised to donate his extensive lands and the manor, called Mallilie, in exchange for lifetime food, lodging and support from the Abbey. In doing this, Master Bonel is disinheriting his son Edwyn, but apparently there is little love lost between Bonel and his only son.

Brother Cadfael is hurriedly summoned to the Bonel home. The Master was eating a special dish prepared for him by the abbey's cook, and now he lies stricken! Has the abbey poisoned him? It makes no sense - the paperwork is not yet signed, if Bonel perishes now, Shrewsbury Abbey will not claim Mallilie, instead, it will pass onto his son. Cadfael rushes to the home. He immediately recognizes signs of poisoning by Monk's Hood. Cadfael careful sniffs the special meal - and detects the mustard scent of his own mustard-mixed Monk's Hood concoction! Master Bonel has indeed been poisoned, and soon breathes his last. Cadfael's healing arts cannot save him.

It is clear that a murder was committed, but by whom? The most obvious suspect is Bonel's son, Edwyn, because he now stands to inherit the Mallilie estate. Most incriminating is that just before Bonel ate the special meal, there was a tremendous row between father and son, and Edwyn stormed a way from the house. But the household also hold a wife, Richildis, a child named Aldrith and a couple of servants, Aelfric and Meurig. All are suspect. Unfortunately, Cadfael recognizes Richildis - she was his sweetheart decades ago, before Cadfael set out on his crusade. When Cadfael finally returned from his adventures, Richildis had married and Cadfael donned the cloth. Might Cadfael's old flame actually be a murderer, trying to save the Mallilie manor for her disinherited son? Or perhaps that the poison was administered back at the abbey, for reasons yet unknown. Cadfael has much to investigate.

As far as mysteries go, Monk's Hood isn't too complicated. The delight with this novel is in it characterization and its depiction of life in medieval England. Ellis Peter's describes tasks, professions, and customs - not in long info dumps, but in a few short words that will show the reader that this is a different world. The characters sometimes use unfamiliar words or patterns of speech. The reader can usually glean from context what Peter's is describing; I liked these glimpses of life in the 12th century, it made the story sound authentic to me.

The paperback edition I own is just 210 pages, so it doesn't take long to read these Brother Cadfael stories. I expect I will return to this series and read more installments.