When last we saw Sister Fidelma, she had just arrived in Spain, having sorted out all sorts of nastiness taking place on the ship that was taking her on pilgrimage to Santiago. No sooner has she stepped onto shore when she receives a message that Brother Eadulf, her usual partner in peril and sort-of love interest, has been charged with murder back in Ireland. As she heads back home as fast as possible, it seems that justice is not going to wait for her. Eadulf has been charged, tried and found guilty of the rape and murder of a twelve year old girl – a member of the abbey of Fearna. And as luck would have it, the kingdom of Laigin has decided to turn away from the laws that have been set down by the High King and adopt the ecclesiastical Penitentials from Rome. The important part being “an eye for an eye” – Eadulf is to hang.
Despite finding flaws in the case, Fidelma cannot persuade the authorities to re-open the case. With old enemies and the King of Laigin himself aligned against her, it seems that Eadulf is doomed – until he vanishes from his cell…
You might want to go back and read my previous reviews of Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma books, because to be honest, I’m going to say the same thing as ever.
Despite draping his narrative with the rich history of the era – in particular in this case, the competing legal systems from Rome and from Ireland – Tremayne is, in my opinion, first and foremost a plotter. Given the complexity of the plot, a lesser writer could fumble things, but there’s enough going on here to keep a thriller reader happy and plenty of mystery to keep a mystery reader content. As ever, despite all sorts of things going on that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling, it all boils down to all of the suspects being in the same room while Fidelma channels an ancient Irish Poirot by explaining as carefully as possible who the murderer was and, of course, the bits and bobs that the reader really should have noticed…
And there are a few clues dotted around for the reader to pick up on. I spotted the villain of the piece about halfway through, in part due to what felt like an attempt by the author to make me look in one particular direction, and partly because knowing how Tremayne would ensure that the story, despite the multitude of murders and other nefarious deeds, made sense, it did seem to narrow it down.
But regardless of me spotting the murderer, this was a great read. As ever with the Sister Fidelma series, highly recommended.
I tried ‘The Chalice of Blood’ recently as it has a locked room problem but didn’t feel that it was such a great effort – wonder if I would’ve been better off to have started with one of the earlier ones.
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