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Monthly Spotlight: Ellis Peters’ Cadfael

A belated Happy New Year to you all. This month we’re taking a look at a historical murder mystery series; possibly one of the first, begun in 1977.

There are twenty Cadfael novels, set in Shrewsbury, England, during the 12th century. I’m not generally a big fan of crime novels and mysteries, but I find the historical ones interesting because of the ways characters have to find to solve things without the benefits of modern technology, and this series also benefits from great characters and an enjoyable writing style.

Cadfael is a Benedictine monk and most of the stories take place in and around the Abbey and its grounds. He’s the herbalist and medicine-maker for the monastery and ends up drawn into the various crimes because unlike his fellow monks he came to the life late and has real-world experience to draw on; he was a soldier in one of the many Crusades and thus has some expertise in wounds and much more advanced medical techniques.

He’s a nice cheerful protagonist, with a good balance of cynicism and optimism; he’s curious about the world around him and a very good judge of human nature, and his fellow monks aren’t just bland stereotypes but distinct personalities and they feel like a very real group of people, with all the problems that entails. The various heroes and villains of the books are all well developed (including the women; the whole series is surprisingly progressive and equal considering the setting) and mostly sympathetic, and again all feel very real. There’s a bit of humour running through everything and some clever twists here and there, and according to people far more knowledgeable than I am the whole series is very historically accurate and touches on a lot of real events of the period. Some of the happy endings are a little trite, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The first in the series is A Morbid Taste for Bones; the individual plots all stand alone so it’s not absolutely necessary to read them in order, but there are recurring characters and minor plot threads so it’s probably a good idea.


There is a TV adaptation comprising thirteen episodes, though I haven’t managed to see all of them yet. Very sensibly they stuck to adapting the books and made no attempt to write original stories. A lot of the monks are superbly cast, I all but applauded Oswin (the actor plays a very similar character in the British soap Emmerdale) and Jerome and Robert are perfectly irritating and wonderfully punchable, particularly Jerome. Season One’s Hugh Beringar is also good, which makes it hard to like his successors.

Derek Jacobi is a great actor but in my opinion wrong for Cadfael, he’s not humourous enough or peasant enough (and certainly not Welsh enough, Cadfael being Welsh is a minor plot point in several books rather than merely authorial whim), though he did grow on me over time. A lot of the side role actors are really, really bad, though there are some gems who hopefully advanced their careers. (I think a lot of them did, I spent some time thinking ‘Aaargh who is that’ in almost every episode.) Acting aside, the adaptation is fairly good and fairly faithful to the source material, though as ever the books are better and occasionally there are some bizarre leaps away from the original. I’m not sure how easy some of the plots would be to follow without knowledge of the books, though; it’s easy to lose track of who’s who.

There are also a scattering of radio episodes that I haven’t managed to find, and all the books are available on audio.

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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Sir Terry Pratchett

Once a month, I pick something from my bookshelves and talk about it. There’s no better choice to kick off this series than the work of my favourite author of all time, Sir Terry Pratchett. This post is going to be insanely long because there’s just so much to talk about – no future spotlight is even going to get close.

Mostly I’ll be focusing on the Discworld series, easily his best-known books – 36 adult novels and 5 young-adult novels (broken down into character arcs), plus 4 science-based novellas, TV adaptations, animated adaptations, plays, music, computer games, diaries… you can see why this is going to be a long post. Before jumping into that, I’m going to talk briefly about his non-Discworld books, under the cut.

[Mitchell here. I don’t have a lot to add, as I unfortunately haven’t read a lot of Pratchett’s work. He was a thoroughly admirable human being and brilliant writer, and I’ve appreciated what I did read of his. I have issues with depression and I’ve found that interferes with my enjoyment of the humour: I tended to notice in the abstract that it was clever and I should be laughing without actually reacting, so I’ve been putting them off until I’m in a better mental place to experience them. That’s not going to stop me from seconding the recommendation, though, his books are great.]

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Posted by on January 25, 2018 in loten

 

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Strike: The Silkworm (BBC adaptation) Part Two

Part two. At some point my commentary is probably going to dry up, because as you all know I never finished the book in detail so I won’t be able to judge how closely the show is following most of the ending. We’ll see how it goes. Also this is later than I had planned to do it because I have no motivation for this – it’s not awful the way the book was, just really, really dull.

As it turns out I was able to keep commenting until the end, since they cut just about everything that happened after I ragequit. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2017 in loten

 

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Strike: The Silkworm (BBC adaptation) Part One

This trainwreck just will not stop. Despite how much I disliked Cuckoo, I’m continuing into Silkworm. But with a heavy caveat – I loathed the book. You all know I loathed the book. I loathed it enough to quit half way through my coverage of it for you all.

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I’ve tried several times to sit down and start going through this episode and I just plain don’t want to. It’s not going to be fun. So I did some thinking; by the time I did the book I was a lot better at this sort of thing than some of my earlier series here, so we already have a detailed plot synopsis. Rather than make myself do it all again, I’m just going to watch this with as much of my attention as I can muster and note down what’s been altered from the book and if there’s any new content.

It’s not like most of you care either way. I suspect almost everyone’s just waiting for me to stop tormenting myself and carry on with Harry Potter stuff. If you are interested, I suggest you re-read my coverage of the book first so you know what the heck I’m talking about.

Part One, then: “War veteran turned private investigator Cormoran Strike investigates the disappearance of a provocative author.” Not the most interesting synopsis in the world, but at least it’s accurate.

Let’s go. Before we start, I am fully prepared to quit if it becomes clear at any point that they haven’t tried to fix any of the extremely offensive things that made me abandon the book coverage.

[I’ll interject occasionally if I have something to say but I doubt I have much to add here.]

Content warning for suicide under the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2017 in loten

 

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Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part Three

Time for the final episode. I am still not sure why this was three episodes long. Around half the first episode and almost all the second one could have been removed completely without changing the plot in any way.

Apparently, ‘long-buried secrets are revealed, putting Strike and Robin in danger as they close in the killer‘ [sic]. I don’t recall any actual peril in the book, but the typo amuses me.

Well, let’s see how badly they manage to mess this up.


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Posted by on September 24, 2017 in loten

 

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Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part Two

All right, part two. Starting to lose patience, this took multiple sessions to get through. If it had been a two-parter, part one could have introduced us to everyone and picked out the most likely people, and part two would be actual detective work figuring out the answer, but as it is we’re an hour into a three-hour program and have no idea how most of the characters are remotely connected to the case. We know Ciara was with Lula earlier on the night she died, and we know Tansy and Freddie were at home when it happened and that Tansy initially claimed to have seen the fall.

Strike hasn’t managed to speak to any of them beyond Tansy refusing to talk to him, and we’ve also been given a list of other people Lula knew who don’t seem relevant to anything. We know no more about the plot at the beginning of part two than we did at the beginning of part one. Rochelle’s death has no impact since all we know is that she was friends with Lula; it’s not until later this episode that Strike tells us she was also with Lula that day.

Despite this, the episode synopsis assures me that Strike makes a breakthrough. We shall see.

Feel free to skim-read, by the way. This was boring to go through and will probably be boring to read; I just wanted to make sure the things I’m complaining about are clear.

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Posted by on September 16, 2017 in loten

 

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Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part One

The BBC have decided to immediately follow Cuckoo with Silkworm, so I now have to rush to get through both of them before they vanish from iPlayer.

If they throw out Career of Evil immediately after that, I may never get around to watching it, since I’ll do the book first if I cover it at all (which is a very big if given what Silkworm did to me) and I’m certainly in no hurry. The first two adaptations should give us an idea of how faithful the third will be to the source material, at least, so we can probably guess how good it was if I do miss it.

Cuckoo is split into three hour-long parts, while the others are only two (I think). This seems odd since I remember Silkworm having marginally more actual plot to it.

I’ve only seen a couple of trailers, so this is a ‘blind’ watch even though I know the story; I think they’ve included a lot more of Matthew purely to vilify him beyond reason (he features on exactly half a page in the original book) and it looks like they’ve made Robin slightly less annoyingly man-obsessed fluff, but other than that I haven’t a clue what they’ve done.

Let’s start this train hurtling towards wreckage, shall we?

[Mitchell here: my comments in bracketed italics per usual. I’m going off Loten’s summaries, I’ve not personally seen this and she recommended I keep it that way.]
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Posted by on September 11, 2017 in loten

 

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