After 20 novel-length mysteries, many readers were left wanting to know more about Ellis Peters' detective monk Brother Cadfael. The first story in this collection of three, "A Light on the Road to Woodstock", answers, in part, the question of how Cadfael came to be a Benedictine monk after having been a crusader, a sailor, and a soldier. The story opens as King Henry II's court is leaving France.
In a way, this is also the beginning of the backdrop for the novels. The last ship to leave Barfleur that day, the famous White Ship, struck a rock and sank, killing all aboard, including Henry's only son and heir, William. This sets the stage for the feud between Henry's daughter Maud and her cousin Stephen over who would rule England.
Cadfael, happily, finds himself on an earlier ship, a man-at-arms for a lordling with questionable scruples. Along the journey, he talks with his companion, Alard, who had once been an oblate, but ran away to seek adventure. Cadfael begins to question the direction his own life is going, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The other two stories in the book are more difficult to place in Cadfael's career. Radulfus is Abbot, but no mention is made of Hugh Beringar, Cadfael's friend and foil. Neither is any mention made of the larger historical background of Maud and Stephen's feud.
"The Price of Light" revolves around the disappearance of a gift to the Abbey. In "Eye Witness", the Abbey's steward is attacked, robbed and thrown into the Severn to die while collecting the Abbey's annual rents. Cadfael solves both mysteries with his usual shrewdness and compassion for human frailties.
By necessity, the stories move faster than the novels, and perhaps are a little less complex in their solutions than the novels. But that doesn't mean they are any less engaging. Peters again demonstrates her eye for medieval detail.
The only jarring note comes with the twist at the end of "Eye Witness", one that has seen numerous variations throughout literature. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say, I felt it was a trifle trite.
Prequel to the Brother Cadfael Mysteries. Ellis Peters tells us the back story of how her Welshman had his change of vocation on the road to Woodstock.
Published later but this book is a pre-story
which explains how cadfael left the adventuring life
for the monastic life.