Saint Peter's Fair


Ellis Peters


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

February 21, 2021

rother Cadfael, everyone's favorite 12th century monk, returns in book four of his mystery series. The story this time is Saint Peter's Fair . It is the summer of 1139, the time for the harvest is fast approaching. In the height of summer, the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul hold their annual fair, which attracts merchants, entertainers and fair-goers from all over. The abbey collects a toll for the merchant stalls, an important source of income. But the citizens of Shrewsbury are frustrated to see all that money going into the abbey when the town is badly needs funds to rebuild and repair after the battle from the previous year (the fight for Shrewsbury is described in book two, One Corpse Too Many).

One wealthy merchant who sails up the river with a barge full of fine wines to sell is Thomas of Bristol. He steps ashore, and his minions hoist the barrels onto land. But here come some frustrated youths, still seething at the abbey collecting all the rents, while the town does without. The leader of these angry youths is a hothead named Philip Corviser. He asks Thomas of Bristol to pay his tax to the township to Shrewsbury rather than to the abbey. Thomas wants nothing to do with such nonsense. Violence ensues, and the sheriff is called, the angry parties are separated. The fair continues.

But later that night, Thomas of Bristol is found murdered. His naked body is dragged from the river - Thomas was stabbed in the back. Killed by thieves who stole his fine clothes - or was this murder the work of someone with another motive, someone who hoped that his evil deed would be blamed on opportunistic thieves? Even worse, an angry Philip Corviser was seen drinking heavily in the tavern that night, and he stormed off alone at about the time Thomas of Bristol was last seen alive. It looks a revenge killing. Brother Cadfael is an expert sleuth, and soon he is involved in the case.

Each of these novels is short - my paperback edition is just 217 pages. Because of the low page count, Ellis Peters doesn't introduce too many characters, and there are few side plots to the main narrative. The small cast of characters usually make the villain easy to spot - there are only a few possible perpetrators! But in this story, I wasn't sure of the identity of the wicked murderer. What fooled me is that I couldn't guess what might be the motive for the killings. It clearly isn't a case of revenge killing - while Philip Corviser is languishing in gaol under suspicion for the death of Thomas of Bristol, a second killing occurs. Clearly, the killer is NOT Corviser. Brother Cadfael investigates, weighs the evidence, and eventually deduces what is going on.

As always, the best part of these short novels is the depiction of medieval England. In this story, I learned that Brother Cadfael is 59 years old - an ancient man for those days! His long years have given Cadfael insight into the machinations of humanity, both the good and bad. This experience, plus Cadfael's alertness to detail, coupled with his wisdom, (plus his knack for always being around when something momentous is about ot happen!) make the monk just the right man to unravel these puzzles. I enjoyed this novel, so I assume I will eventually read the next one.