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Tom Chaney. R764 review: The Piper on the Mountain

Of Writers and Their Books No. R764: First appeared 27 May 2007. A review of the book: The Piper on the Mountain by author Edith Pageter, writing as Ellis Peters.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column :Tom Chaney. R763 review: An Honest Politician is . . .

By Tom Chaney

Hideaways and fatal falls

I have long been fond of the Brother Cadfael series of mysteries by Ellis Peters, pseudonym for Edith Pargeter. Both in book form and as a British television series shown on public television, they continue to intrigue me. Every now and again for an evening's pleasure I reread one of these stories set in the twelfth century.


The twenty-one Cadfael mysteries are set in Pargeter's native Shropshire along the English/Welsh border. If you are not familiar with this cloistered herbalist and his colleagues at Shrewsbury Abbey, then a treat awaits.

However I have just begun to read some of the other work of this prolific woman. Born in Horsehay in Shropshire in 1913, she had her first novel published in 1936. Near the end of World War Two she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her work in the Women's Royal Navy Services.

After the war, Pargeter made a number of trips to Czechoslovakia where she learned the Czech language and translated many of that land's works of literature. In fact, she took as her pen name a combination of her brother Ellis' name and that of a Czech friend, Petra.

The Piper on the Mountain [William Collins and Sons, 1966] set in Slovakia, involves a detective family from Peters' native Shropshire: George Felse, a police detective, and his wife Bunty who have a son Dominic. It is this son who is featured in The Piper on the Mountain.

Herbert Terrell is the unpopular head of security in a secret British laboratory. On a mountain climbing vacation in Slovakia, he is killed in a fall. Nobody is sorry. Not his wife, from whom he is separated; not his step-daughter Tossa a student at Oxford; and, least of all, his wife's lover.

Nevertheless, Tossa is shocked by a note implying that her step-father was murdered. Tossa, her friend Dominic Felse, and two friends are about to be off for a vacation on the continent.

Intrigued that Terrell may have been murdered and upset that no one seems to care about him, Tossa steers her party to the mountains where Terrell met his death. She reluctantly involves Dominic who realizes that others may die if the mystery of Terrell's death is not solved.

Using the detecting tricks learned from his policeman father, Dominic solves the mystery of the mountain hideaway, Terrell's fatal fall and the haunting tune of the mountain piper who from the Slovakian heights plays an English ballad.

Ellis Peters is a master of the craft of the British mystery. Her plots are masterfully contrived although not always to the contemporary reader's taste. One will find echoes of an Agatha Christy device which brings characters together in somewhat unlikely groups.

It is with the beginning of the Brother Cadfael novels in 1977 that Ellis Peters rises well above the constraints of the typical English mystery, taking the reader into a new yet old monastic setting, creating a delightful border country setting with vibrant characters.

Yet there are glimpses in the Felse stories of her mastery of character and place. In Piper on the Mountain we are transfixed by her love of the Slovakian mountains and people. Some have said that her fondness for that country arises out of her regret at the British abandonment of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis in 1938.

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This story was posted on 2012-05-27 03:02:17
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