Wu Chen Recommends: Edith Pargeter

I love mysteries, and I love series with recurring characters to really dig into. While the recently deceased Ruth Rendell was one of my favourite mystery authors, and with Colin Dexter (check out the spin-off TV series Lewis on Netflix for a real treat) and Sara Paretsky forms my trio of highly recommended contemporary authors for those new to the genre, the writer I find myself reading and rereading more than any other is Ellis Peters, which was actually a pen name for the author Edith Pargeter. I declare that fact with the self-important grandiosity of one who only just found out while researching this piece and had spent his whole life thinking they were different people.

By turns whimsical and deeply serious, the Brother Cadfael series is a fascinating take on a rich world. I’m not an expert in 1200s England and Wales, and I shan’t pretend to hold forth on the accuracy of the setting, but that doesn’t detract from the storytelling and I find myself easily drawn in. The people are sketched effectively and efficiently and the recurring characters are deeply compelling - even nasty old Brother Jerome. There is a dynamic, sensical (not sensible) and compelling world beyond the main characters, and life happens there in all it’s inexorable, terrible beauty.

Easily readable (you’ll fly through the pages without realizing it), but by no means fluffy and superficial, Ellis Peters’ language is intelligent and approachable. I’m rather reminded of Star Wars - don’t laugh - in that you’re thrown into this world with the presumption that you’re smart enough to grasp what’s happening and can use that brain of yours to make sense of it. All while having a rollicking good time - and there’s nothing wrong with that!

My favorite is The Devil’s Novice, but they’re all a darn good read.