The Virgin in the Ice – The Sixth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael
Thorndike Press, 1982, 311 PP
This is a one of a series of the Brother Cadfael series of mystery novels by Ellis Peters, which is the nom de plume used by British author Edith Pargeter when writing her mystery stories.
Like the other Brother Cadfael books, this one is centered around the Shrewsbury Abbey in the village of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England during the twelfth century. This was the period of the ill fated reign of King Stephen (1135-1154). Stephen was the nephew of King Henry I and had pushed his cousin, Henry's daughter, Maude aside and assumed the throne upon Henry's death. Stephen was not a strong king and this, plus the on-going civil war with Maude and her supporters made for unstable and lawless times.
Cadfael, a Welshman, is a man of the world, having been a soldier, sailor and foot soldier in the Crusades. Returning to England in 1120 as a middle aged single man he feels a need for a new direction in life and is drawn to the monastic life and ends up in the Benedictine Abbey in Shrewsbury. The Benedictine monks and their abbey are a vital part of the community and Cadfael's knowledge of herbs makes him the doctor to abbey and village, while his keen eye for detail, broad experience and intelligence also make him the unofficial detective for the community.
In this book, Brother Oswin, Cadfael's young and not too bright assistant, is found close to death in the woods in winter. In his delirium Oswin cries out about having been intimate with a woman. The next day Cadfael and the sheriff head into the woods to investigate and discover the bruised body of a young nun frozen in a brook. In a nearby shed they find the nun's cloak and Oswin's cloak both stained with blood. Cadfael then sets out to discover whether the still unconscious Oswin is innocent or guilty of the rape and murder of the nun. This is difficult because Cadfael looks upon Oswin as the son he never had.
Also in the woods are a band of rogue crusaders and a young noblewoman and her younger brother who had been traveling with the nun, their tutor, to the castle of the knight to whom woman is betrothed. The rogue crusaders had been in the employ of the the father of the young woman and her brother but had turned against them and are now trying to hold the two for ransom. Cadfael, the sheriff and his men have to fight the rogue crusaders and overcome some other obstacles but, in the end find and rescue the woman and her brother.
The identity of the real killer is a surprise and is identified as the result of Cadfael's careful collection and analysis of the evidence that serves to both identify that person and establish Oswin's innocence. In the course of the drama, Cadfael also encounters a knight from the Holy Land who turns out to be the son Cadfael never knew he had.
The review of this Book prepared by Chuck Nugent