Review of “One Corpse Too Many” by Ellis Peters

This is the second book in the Brother Cadfael mystery series, featuring an older Benedictine Monk who retired to the Abbey at Shrewsbury after a wild and eventful youth, and now spends his time peacefully in the Abbey’s herbarium. Or tries to: it seems there’s always a murder to be solved in 12th Century England, and Brother Cadfael is the man to do it.


This book takes place in the summer of 1138, during the war of succession for the crown of England between King Stephen and his cousin the Empress Maude. King Stephen holds Shrewsbury under siege, and he is seeking to attract followers from the camps of his main opponents, William FitzAlan and Fulke Adeney. In particular, he wants to find the only daughter of Adeney – Godith – to hold for ransom in exchange for her father. He suspects she is hiding at the Abbey.

Meanwhile, Shrewsbury Castle falls to King Stephen, and the remaining 94 defenders are hanged. Brother Cadfael offers to help bury the bodies, and discovers one extra. Someone apparently tried to cover up a murder by adding an extra body to the pile. Brother Cadfael is determined to get to the bottom of it, and the King agrees. (The characters muse on the topsy-turvy morality of war that allows Stephen to collude in the killing of the 94, but be horrified by the killing of an additional man.)

As in the previous book, Brother Cadfael does not let his detective duties deter him from matchmaking. There is a lovely passage when two young people suddenly experience a difference in their regard for one another:

“And talk they did… Each of them took up the thread from the other, as though handed it in a fixed and formal ceremony, like a favour in a dance. Even their voices had grown somehow alike, as if they matched tones without understanding that they did it. They had not the least idea, as yet, that they were in love.”

“Ah well,” Brother Cadfael muses, “these things are for the young.” (See my review of the first book in the series about Brother Cadfael’s proclivity for fixing up people, in which I give you the lyrics for “Hello Young Lovers.”) These lyrics include the apt stanza:

“Don’t cry young lovers, whatever you do,
Don’t cry because I’m alone;
All of my memories are happy tonight,
I’ve had a love of my own.
I’ve had a love of my own, like yours-
I’ve had a love of my own.”

Another wonderful passage in the book is an exchange between Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar, one of King Stephen’s soldiers about to engage in a duel to the death with his enemy, Adam Courcelle. Brother Cadfael asks Hugh if he will spend the night before in prayer:

“‘I am not such a fool as all that,’ said Hugh reprovingly, and shook a finger at his friend. ‘For shame, Cadfael! You go to bed and sleep well, and rise fresh to the trial. And now I suppose you will insist on being my deputy and advocate to heaven?’

‘No,” said Cadfael grudgingly. ‘I shall sleep, and get up only when the bell rings for me. Am I to have less faith than an impudent heathen like you?’”

Still, Cadfael worries to himself about the outcome of the duel:

“The trouble with me,’ he thought unhappily, ‘is that I have been about the world long enough to know that God’s plans for us, however infallibly good, may not take the form that we expect and demand. And I find an immense potential for rebellion in this old heart, if God, for no matter what perfect end, choose to take Hugh Beringar out of this world and leave Adam Courcelle in it.’”

Evaluation: This second book in the Brother Cadfael series is a marked improvement over the first. Characters have more depth, and if the murderer is not so well hidden to readers, the process by which the characters get there is an enjoyable one. And like the first, there are two pairs of lovers that find fulfillment thanks to Brother Cadfael. Sad in a way, but also sweet, and entertaining.

Rating: 3.8/5

Published in the U.S. by William Morrow & Company, 1980


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7 Responses to Review of “One Corpse Too Many” by Ellis Peters

  1. Sandy says:

    I’m liking the sound of this series, and even more I love the title of the book! The next time I’m wandering about in the bookstore, I’m going to look into these!

  2. You are on quite the series roll. I like a really good series. It’s a chance to come back and visit with a favorite friend. This series is starting to intrigue me.

  3. bermudaonion says:

    I really think my mom would enjoy this series. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  4. Staci says:

    3.8….you’re starting to sound like my son Marc!! LOL!! I’m glad that it got a little bit better for the 2nd book.

  5. Alyce says:

    I really don’t know if I’d like these books or not. I like historical fiction, but mysteries are more hit and miss for me. As far as the match-making, that’s less appealing, but who knows – I might like it. 🙂

  6. April says:

    This sounds like an interesting series. Great quote picks!

  7. Nymeth says:

    I meant to reply to your e-mail the other day and say that I actually haven’t started this series yet! But it was mentioned on my Tell Me What Mysteries I Should Read post from a while ago, and I’m looking forward to reading it 😛 I’m glad you enjoyed it! I love those passages you shared.

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