by Nathan Stout (of AccordingToWhim.com)
This is a little more than a review of the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters as it includes my thoughts on the TV series and the audio books as well. For those of you who don’t know who or what this is all about I will tell you in a nut shell. Cadfael is a Middle-Ages monk who solves crimes in a series of 20 books. I have a keen interest in the Middle Ages and really enjoyed these mysteries.
I can’t tell you how I got into this series. For one I have never actually read any of the books. I am an avid audio book listener since my life doesn’t seem to have time for much book reading. I think I must have just picked up one of the audio books one day back in 2002 from the Fort Worth Library and got hooked. The character of Cadfael is not of an average monk but a former knight who fought in the Holy Land during the Crusades and later in life retired from the world to become a monk. His life experiences brought him much insight into the strange happenings (usually murder) that he helps to solve.
My review isn’t so much of the books but more of the format in which I have so enjoyed them. Like I said I listened to the books. To this day I am not 100% sure I have heard all of them but I think I may have. As I will tell you in a bit about my efforts to rectify this. When you are an avid audio book listener you start to have preferences for certain performers (the people who read the books). My top picks for audio book readers are (in no order):
- George Guidall
- Stephen Thorne
- Tony Robinson
- Jim Dale
The Cadfael audio books (the ones produced by Chivers Audiobooks from England) is Stephen Thorne. Patrick Tull reads for the Cadfael books produced by Audio Editions and finally Roe Kendall reads the Cadfael books by Blackstone Audio. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Derek Jacobi also read the books (he is the actor that played Brother Cadfael in the TV series). Out of all the readers I have to say Stephen Thorne is the best. They are all good but Thorne’s Welsh Cadfael is done to a tee. They all have their positives but Steven Thorne does Cadfael the best. I found it amusing that Roe Kendall (a woman) sounds like she is impersonating Stephen Thorne’s Cadfael!
I have enjoyed his performance so much that I decided that I wanted the whole collection of Cadfael audio books done by him. The problem is that his versions are out of print (from the 90’s) and very hard to get a hold of (at a reasonable price). I have tried on many occasions but cannot find even the cheapest one for less than forty dollars (including shipping). I have listened to all of them through the Fort Worth Public Library and decided that the only way I was going to enjoy them on a permanent basis was to copy them!
Sure I know all about copyright laws and such but this item is out of print and unavailable digitally. I have done something similar with the audio books for Red Dwarf (of which I STILL cannot find an unabridged version). I copied the tapes and have been listening to them (at LEAST once a year if not more) for more than 15 years! I didn’t want to copy the Cadfael tapes onto tape so I decided to just put my nose to the grindstone and actually digitally encode the tapes to MP3 format. This is a HUGE and tedious effort which requires me to hook up a tape deck to my PC and actually play each tape and record it into a program (Goldwave) then encode the WAV files into an MP3. Many of the books are eight tapes which total sixteen sides and the rest range from six to seven tapes. At this point I have encoded eight of the twenty books… sheesh. All I can say is that I love these recordings and I WILL enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Now on to the TV show. In the 90’s there was a British TV version of the Cadfael Mysteries. They aired here in the US on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. The show starred Derek Jacobi and was pretty good for being on a British budget. The stories are trimmed down in many cases but they translate well. Acorn Media produced a DVD set of the one hour shows and I am not totally done watching them all.
If you like mysteries and you like the Middle Ages then give these mysteries a try. They are engaging and have some nice character development. As a final note Ellis Peter is the pen name of a lady named Edith Pargeter. Edith was an avid Herbologist and her character Cadfael is a master with herbs and all their uses (and mis-uses).