The Franciscan by James Rollo

This action-filled story sails us from Rome to the Wild West of America during the period around the Civil War.  Father Moretti, a humble church scholar, has his devotion to God tested when he discovers a treasure map tucked away in a hidden recess among archives.  Almost too strange for coincidence, the very same day Moretti’s superior, who is unaware of his find, sends him on an overseas assignment to the missions of the Santa Cruz Valley in North America.  This is the very spot marked by an X on the treasure map.  And the scholar monk will not be travelling alone.

Unbeknown to Moretti, it was not only his eyes studying the map.  Through a peephole to Moretti’s chamber, a disgruntled church employee is able to make a rough copy of the map.  This copy is passed to a greedy professional who will stop at nothing to claim the riches for himself.

With such a beginning, how can this story avoid being full of adventure?   The main storyline is rich, but Rollo gives us spices to go with it.  With Union cavalry troops, Confederate cavalry, fierce bands of Apache Indians, pioneer settlers, and wagons full of gold as ingredients, James Rollo cooks up quite a tale!

Brother Cadfael

Does anyone else see Brother Cadfael as being a smooth, layed-back guy? If you don’t know who Brother Cadfael is:  he is a monk and apothecary at the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury England during the 12th Century. He is a fictional character created by Ellis Peters (a pseudonym of Edith Pargeter), and appears as the main character in a series of short mystery novels.

I accidentally got hooked on the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael by thumbing through one of the paperbacks because it had a cool looking cover.  In fact, all the Cadfael books have good medieval style artwork on the cover.  I am a history buff, and I knew the monasteries in that time period were sanctuaries from the harsh life outside, as well as cultural centers.  I like to learn how day-to-day life was at that remote time.  However, what got me hooked on the series was Pargeter’s magical ability to weave such an enchanting world and a such a charismatic monk.

Cadfael, with no official authority, is the primary detective and problem solver in the area of Shrewsbury.  Partly because of the civil war that was raging at the time, many of the pilgrims and travellers passing through the abbey have problems with the law, or even family, because loyalties are divided between the two factions.  And more often than not, a lovestruck young couple is being kept apart because of social differences, a tyrannical father or mother, or marraiges arranged for reasons other than love.  Cadfael uses his generosity, charisma, wit, wisdom, influence with the sheriff, and crafty detective work to make wrongs right and to bring young lovers together.  He does it not for personal gain, but because he is a man at peace with himself and God.  He does it because he has nobler motives and a true goodwill towards his fellow man.