Brother Cadfael, Master of Mystery


Welcome to Masters of Mystery Monday, where each week we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre.  You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.

As we continue our “religious” series of fictional detectives, we shouldn’t overlook those monks!  Some make wine, some make cheese, some are cloistered, and some…catch murderers.


Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael

Some interesting facts about Ellis Peters and the Brother Cadfael series:

1.  Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters) wrote dozens of novels and short stories (both historical and contemporary), under various pen names.  For a complete list, click here.

2.  During WWII, she served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (called the “Wrens”) and achieved the rank of petty officer.

3.  She was a self-taught scholar (she didn’t attend university, but was awarded honorary degrees for her writing).  She even taught herself fluency in Czech after visiting that country, and published writings in that language.

4.  There are 20 books in the Brother Cadfael series, published between 1977 and 1994, and span the years 1137-1145 A.D.

5.  Ellis Peters received numerous awards for her writing, including the Crime Writers’ Association’s (Great Britain) lifetime contribution award in 1993.


Why we like Brother Cadfael and the series:

1.  This isn’t your typical sheltered-from-the-world monk, oh no.  Peters wanted her monk to have a “past.”  Brother Cadfael had a very colorful life before becoming a Benedictine monk:  he had been a “crusader” in the original sense of the word, as in “Crusades,” where fighting and killing were part of the experience.

2.  There were women in Cadfael’s past life, too, so he knew what he was giving up when he signed on for the Benedictine way of life.

3.  Cadfael is a skilled gardener and herbalist; he understands the medicinal – and deadly – effects of herbs.

4.  Ellis Peters’ setting, 12th century England, is rich in historical detail of day-to-day life, along with actual events of that time.

5. Sir Derek Jacobi played Brother Cadfael in the BBC series!  Which brings us to…


Beyond the books:  television

Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi (Henry V, Dead Again, The King’s Speech) starred in the Brother Cadfael television series produced in Britain (though filmed in Hungary).  Each 75-minute episode (13 in all) was adapted from the novels.  The series ran for four seasons, between 1994 and 1998.  Below is an opening clip from one of the episodes.  Enjoy!





Links for more info:

Steve Conrad’s Brother Cadfael site (incredibly comprehensive!)

Cozy Mystery Blog – Brother Cadfael

PBS – Mystery! Brother Cadfael


Want the answers to the last quiz?






1.  Who was the first fictional detective?

  • Sherlock Holmes
  • C. Auguste Dupin was a creation of Edgar Allan Poe and appeared in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841.
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Charlie Chan

2.  Who was NOT given an honorary British title as a result of his/her writing?

  • Dorothy Sayers – although not as famous as Agatha Christie (Dame of the Empire) or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (awarded for his writings about the Boer War, NOT his Sherlock Holmes character), Sayers’ work was arguably just as good, esp. her Lord Peter Wimsey series.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Agatha Christie
  • William Wordsworth – I fudged on this a little.  He was Great Britain’s Poet Laureate; not exactly a “title” in the British sense of the word, but still a distinction.  And he didn’t write detective fiction, of course.

3.  Which of these detectives came from a small village?

  • Mike Hammer
  • Columbo
  • Charlie Chan
  • Miss Marple – the fictitious village of St. Mary’s Mead

4. True or False:  Sherlock Holmes used a hound in some of the stories to pick up a scent trail.  A few of the stories have him borrowing a dog, Toby, to help with a pursuit.


Be your own “Master of Mystery”: take this week’s quiz!

Do you know your plots?  Match the four plots described below with the correct title of the novel.  I’ve thrown in an extra choice to challenge you.

1.  Ten people who don’t know each other arrive on a private island by invitation.  The host never makes an appearance, all connection to the outside world is severed, and one by one, guests start dying in odd ways.

2.  The wife of a politically powerful husband is concealing numerous affairs from him.  To protect her secret, she lies and swears the detective was at the murder scene.  Now he must discover the real killer in order to clear his name.

3.  A precious gem is found in the crop of the detective’s Christmas goose, and he is determined to find out how it got there, and return it.

4.  The detective searches for a hidden will, in order to restore a family in financial difficulty as the rightful heirs to a fortune.


a. Vengeance is Mine

b.  The Secret of the Old Clock

c.  And Then There Were None

d.  “The Blue Carbuncle”

e.  The Case of the Velvet Claws


Hope you’re getting a kick out of the quizzes.  Have you read the Brother Cadfael novels?  Have you watched the television series?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,




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7 thoughts on “Brother Cadfael, Master of Mystery”

  1. Pamela V. MasonPamela V. Mason

    We did watch the Brother Cadfael series on public television- how come so much of US public tv is made up of BBC series? –
    Anything with Derek Jacobi is worthy of watching.
    No; I did not read the novels, but now I might look for them at the library. Would like Amazon to make these free classics for Kindle, wouldn’t that be nice?
    Yes, I am loving the quizzes. Shows me how much I don’t know.
    Thanks KBowen!

  2. Paul OwenPaul Owen

    Now I want to get Brother Cadfael on DVD.

    Two out of four on last week’s quiz. Rats! I’m really slipping.

  3. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – I’m so glad you featured Cadfael today. He’s such an interesting and unique character, and Peters/Pargeter wrote him very well. And I have to say, Derek Jacobi is Cadfael…

  4. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    You picked another one that I’ve never heard of! I wonder if they ever run the TV show today?

  5. Gene LemppGene Lempp

    I’d be interested in finding the 13 episodes, these sound exciting and different. Derek Jacobi is a great actor and well worth the watch.

    Nicely done, Kathy!


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