A Rosy Medieval Mystery

July 23, 2009 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

rose
Medieval England. A monastery. A flowery title. Strange past legal agreements. Mysterious happenings. A cover complete with the title in a hokey slightly-Gothic font. Have you guessed the book? If you guessed The Name of the Rose, you’d be wrong, but at least you’d be reading something good. Instead, you’re stuck with Ellis Peters’ thirteenth Brother Cadfael mystery, The Rose Rent. I think it is safe to say that no matter how awesome you are as a writer or how beloved your protagonist is, if you find yourself writing a book whose number in a series has more than one digit, it is time to stop. No one is that good or that adored.

That said, The Rose Rent tells the tale of that magical thirteenth time that Brother Cadfael (famed monk and medieval mystery-solver) is called upon to use that impressive mind of his to help solve a mystery in his medieval town. Having never read the first twelve of these books, I can only marvel at the sheer number of mysteries that occur conveniently next to Cadfael’s monastery and which he is called upon to solve. This is just one of many too-convenient plotlines that the reader is simply expected to get on board with. (Others include a lady-fair implausibly falling for a widowed blacksmith, the lady-fair renting out one of her larger estates for just one rose once a year, and no one in the town noticing much of anything going on as a the sheriff engages in a massive man-hunt for the lady-fair and her abductor, neither of whom he succeeds in finding.)

The book itself is utterly innocuous and if you have a few hours to spare, you can easily polish it off, but what’s the point? When I finished this book, I was faced with the rare feeling of having actually wasted my time reading the book. Normally, a bad book will annoy me or I’ll give up mid-way or I’ll find some nugget of worth in it, but this one I read the whole thing and then immediately felt that such a reading was pointless. The story was fine, the mystery mysterious enough, and the characters all perfectly likeable, but in its sheer ordinariness, The Rose Rent proved pointless. Banal, even.

So if you have some time to kill, give Ellis Peters a go. If you’re looking for a medieval mystery, you could probably do worse—Peters is known for attention to historic detail—but on the other hand, you could undeniably do better. To name just two, Umberto Eco and Sharon Kay Penman both offer excellent medieval mysteries with far more complex plots and actual character development (Peters’ characters all led extremely flat existences with minimal and fairly dull back-stories) while also maintaining historical accuracy.

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Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery. Tags: , , , .

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