The Rose Rent

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Ellis Peters, whose real name is Edith Pargeter--a noted novelist and translator of Czech literature--began the Brother Cadfael series in 1978 with A MORBID BID FOR DEATH and now has reached the thirteenth installment with THE ROSE RENT. The author has stated that she does not “find vice and evil more interesting than virtue” and that she wants the reader to “feel better, not worse, about being human.”

Therefore, in this twelfth-century tale, characters struggle to make good and prosperous lives for themselves. Judith Perle, the heroine of the story, is a deeply religious young widow who strikes an agreement with the abbey in Shrewsbury for them to rent her cottage and garden. Rent is to be paid once a year by June 22 (Saint Winifred’s translation day) and is to consist simply of a single rose from a particular rosebush. Telling the story in a fluid and unpretentious style, the author leads the reader through the turmoil caused by the rent agreement with the abbey.

Judith has a tough time adjusting to life after the death of her husband. There are many suitors who wish to control her and her land. She even contemplates taking vows and becoming a nun. Events, however, lead her elsewhere. One monk is killed while trying to protect the rosebush from being destroyed. Judith is then abducted by a frustrated suitor who eventually cannot stomach holding her against her will. There is another death--one of her workers.

It takes the clear thinking of Brother Cadfael and the dogged work of the lord sheriff Hugh Beringar and his associates to unravel the mystery. An attempt is made on Judith’s life as the tale comes to its unexpected conclusion, and Brother Cadfael must rethink the evidence that he has already collected. Now the clues come together. The killer is caught; virtue triumphs; love will blossom; Cadfael has once again prevailed in the face of evil. The reader not only applauds Peters’ authentic re-creation of a distant era but also takes heart in her spirited defense of values that have held up against corruption from the twelfth century to the present day.