The Potter’s Field

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE POTTER’S FIELD, the seventeenth chronicle of Brother Cadfael, continues Ellis Peter’s popular series of mysteries set in twelfth century England. In the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul at Shrewsbury, Brother Cadfael, wise in the ways of God and man, reports to Abbot Radulfus the news that a young woman, dead perhaps a year or two, has been found reverently buried at the edge of the Potter’s Field.

A recent gift to the abbey, the field for years was the scene of the livelihood of Brother Ruald, whose monastic vows are but a few months old. After a decade and a half of marriage, Ruald claimed a revelation from God and abandoned his wife and his craft for the cloister. His wife Generys disappeared shortly thereafter and has not been seen since.

Ruald is unable to identify the body. The arrival in Shrewsbury of the young novice Sulien Blount further complicates matters: Blount had fled from the abbey at Ramsey after it was seized in the English civil war by forces hostile to King Stephen; Blount’s father had at one time owned the Potter’s Field and Sulien had been no stranger there—though he does seem a stranger to the life of the monastery.

Cadfael’s keen sense of human psychology leads him to explore more deeply the lives of Ruald and Sulien, testing the commitment of the former and probing the unease of the latter. All is revealed in the satisfying conclusion, one not entirely unexpected to fans of the earlier Cadfael adventures. The scales of God’s justice finally balance in this well-crafted tale, and the reader is left to ponder the outcome when justice and love collide.