Someone has stabbed a noble knight to death on a street in Winchester, which lies several days away from Brother Cadfael's abbey in Shrewsbury. It is also time for the Feast of St. Winifred at the abbey, and that will attract pilgrims from all around. Is it possible that the murderer will be among them? Hmm. Well if not, we wouldn't have much of a story to tell, would we?
What's To Like...
The sleuthing will certainly be a challenge. There's no description of the perp, and by the time word reaches Brother Cadfael of the deed, there is no longer a body or crime scene to investigate. Anyone among the hundreds of pilgrims could've done it, or none of them.
The historical setting is great. There really was a St. Winifred (the Wiki link is here) and at the time the story is set in (1141 AD) the Abbey at Shrewsbury had just begun enshrining the (supposed) bones of St. Winifred (she died about 500 years earlier) and commemorating it with an annual Feast.
The Pilgrim of Hate is unique (at least so far) in the series in that Brother Cadfael seems to have a mystical link with St. Winifred and there is a bona fide miracle that takes place. The events in the other books have all been this-worldly. At slightly less than 200 pages, the story moves at a good clip, and as always, Ms. Peters is a master at giving a vivid rendering of 12th-century England.
Kewlest New Word...
Neum : any of various notational signs used in medieval church music; they were put above the words to be sung to show approximate pitch, melody line, etc.
"Where the sun shines," said Hugh ruefully, "there whoever's felt the cold will gather. My cause, old friend, is out of the sun. When Henry of Blois shifts, all men shift with him, like starvelings huddled in one bed. He heaves the coverlet, and they go with him, clinging by the hems. (pg. 1)
"It is a right and a wise desire," said Radulfus. "One thing tell me - are you asking for absolution for failing to fulfill the oath you swore?"
Luc, already on his knees, raised his head for a moment from the abbot's knee, and showed a face open and clear. "No, Father, but for swearing such an oath. Even grief has its arrogance."
"Then you have learned, my son, that vengeance belongs only to God?"
"More than that, Father," said Luc. "I have learned that in God's hands vengeance is safe. However long delayed, however strangely manifested, the reckoning is sure." (pg. 189)
"As long as the saints have money ... rogues will never be far away." (pg. 39)
I got the feeling that Ellis Peters' main reason for penning TPoH was to advance the background stories of both England in general (it was historically a very unstable time) and of Brother Cadfael personally. She does a good job of this, but it comes at the cost of the murder-mystery itself. And the solving of the crime is the raison d'etre for any murder-mystery.
There may be hundreds of pilgrims, but it quickly becomes clear that there are only 5 or 6 suspects, and it doesn't take long for that to dwindle to just two. Also, the side-story - involving the miracle - never really gets tied into the main storyline. Even Peters' trademark romance angle comes off as being thinner than usual.
In short, The Pilgrim of Hate doesn't quite measure up to the other three books I've read in this series. It's still a worthwhile read, but more for the history therein. I'd give it 6 Stars, maybe a bit more if you are reading these in order, which I'm not.