Ellis Peters’s Felse family series and her chronicles of Brother Cadfael are in the British tradition of detective-fiction writers such as P. D. James and Ruth Rendell. These writers’ works, while displaying the careful and suspenseful plotting characteristic of the detective genre, frequently transcend the effect of pure entertainment and share with the traditional “literary” novel the aims of engaging in complex examinations of human character and psychology and achieving thematic depth and moral vision.
Peters herself expressed her dislike for the distinction between detective fiction and serious novels and succeeded in interweaving traditional novelistic materials—love interests, the study of human growth and maturation, the depiction of communities and their politics—with the activity of crime solving. The Brother Cadfael chronicles are her most popular as well as her most impressive achievements, locating universal human situations in the meticulously particularized context of twelfth century England. These novels are masterpieces of historical reconstruction; they present a memorable and likable hero, Brother Cadfael, and a vivid picture of medieval life, in and out of the monastery, in its religious, familial, social, political, and cultural dimensions.