A Rare Benedictine, Ellis Peters
I found this a couple of weeks ago on the library book sale shelves. Its subtitle is "The Advent of Brother Cadfael," and in the introduction Ellis Peters talks about how Cadfael "sprang to life suddenly and unexpectedly, when he was already approaching sixty, mature, experienced, fully armed and seventeen years tonsured." That's in A Morbid Taste for Bones, the first in the series (and probably my favorite, though it doesn't have my favorite characters Hugh and Abbot Ranulfus). Peters says later that "when I had the opportunity to cast a glance behind by way of a short story, to shed light on his vocation, I was glad to use it."
I should have read that sentence more carefully: "a short story." This book consists of three stories, and I was expecting them all to be about Cadfael's early days. The first, "A Light on the Road to Woodstock," is set in 1120, with Cadfael returning to England after service with a Norman lord. He's at the end of his service and looking for what comes next. In the course of the story, we learn that Cadfael spent time in Shrewsbury as a young man, including a year of education at the Abbey of Sts. Peter & Paul, and the story ends with his decision to return there. As Peters writes in the introduction, this isn't a conversion, because Cadfael was always a man of faith, it's just a recognition of a new call.
The other two stories, though, are set in later years, like the novels. One has Heribert as prior, the other Ranulfus. I was expecting more about Cadfael's early years, his adjustment to abbey life, how he became the abbey's master herbalist and de facto healer. I'd bet his first encounters with Robert and Jerome would have made a good story! The two stories are typical Cadfael and interesting enough, if a bit thin as mystery shorts often are - but not what I was expecting, which was more of a 12th century In This House of Brede. Ah well, at least the book was only fifty cents!