"Scatter her bones over the stones, It's only a saint whom nobody owns."
I don't know the origin of those lines, but they cropped up in a book today, spoken by the Scots writer Andrew Lang by the desecrated tomb of Queen Margaret in Dunfermline Abbey. Maybe they were Lang's own, but wherever they are from, they do nicely to introduce Ellis Peters's A Morbid Taste for Bones, the first of the Brother Cadfael Chronicles, in which the ambitious Prior Robert aims to acquire the bones of St. Winifred and take them from their Welsh resting place back to his Benedictine Abbey at Shrewsbury. The relics have been virtually neglected for years, but now that the villagers of Gwytherin find another party interested in their saint, they become proprietorial, and while some are happy to see the bones go to a new home, others are firecely opposed. While negotiations are proceeding, a local landowner who is a chief opponent to the move is murdered; it falls to Brother Cadfael to find his killer.
I liked this book for its neatness - it's well-ordered and pleasingly controlled - and for the character of Brother Cadfael, his rich history, his shrewdness, his 'irreverence' based on respect for what warrants reverence. He is described as having "a certain spark in his eye" and "a notoriously worldly past", and so the herbalist monk is the most intriguing part of the story, and no doubt he develops interestingly as the chronicles proceed.
Fast the book is not! There are a full hundred pages before the murder occurs, so much steady scene-setting, but I found it soothing, undemanding bedtime reading, with quite enough to hold my interest but not so gripping that I felt like rushing straight out to get the second in the series. There's a nice mood to the book, and some good lines - on Rhisiart the murdered man: "He had the voice that might have been expected from him, large, melodious and deep, a voice that sang what it felt, and waited for thought afterwards, to find that the thought had been there already in the feeling."
So for me, not an outstanding book, but a pleasant enough one. What did you think of it?
(ETA: The 'Books and Cakes' post for Brother Cadfael is here).