670 AD, just off the Breton peninsula. Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf are travelling home on the merchant ship The Barnacle Goose following the events of The Council Of The Cursed, when the ship is attacked by pirates, sailing under the banner of a dove. The leader of the pirates, a masked figure clad all in white, brutally murders the ship’s captain and a fellow passenger, Fidelma’s cousin and a member of the royal family of Muman. During the raid, Fidelma and Eadulf take the only option open to them, and jump overboard. But when they wash up on the nearby shore, they find that nobody believes that the pirates could be based locally – but if so, how did the ship’s cat make it to shore?
Soon, Fidelma finds herself at the fortress of Brilhag, home of the local lord, where it seems that people know more than they care to admit about the Dove of Death – the name adopted for both the mysterious ship and the masked leader – but when a murder takes place within the walls of the fortress, it seems that the danger may be closer than it first appeared. Especially when Fidelma spots the symbol of the lord’s family… the same dove that is being flown by the pirate ship.
Book eighteen of the series of the Sister Fidelma mysteries – I do seem to be leaving longer and longer gaps between them – but there are still ten more to go for me. The series has always been a strong one, with a clear whodunit story amid the historical detail. The difference with these tales from other historical fiction is there is usually a grander tale of revolt or rebellion leading the mystery plot. This gives the tales their own unique spin, which, coupled with the complex (and imperfect) character of Fidelma, has made them very popular, not least with me.
This isn’t the strongest entry in the series, as I think the author doesn’t really get the strands of the plot woven together as well as he usually does. The setting, away from Fidelma’s stomping grounds, is a complex one, spread over a number of locations, and takes a while to set up, and the investigation only really kicks off once the murder occurs at Brilhag. The opening half of the book mostly consists of pottering around from place to place while Tremayne sets up the various characters and the links between them, and had me metaphorically looking at my watch throughout as I waited for the plot to coalesce.
At the end of the day, even when things got moving, this one never really grabbed me like the best of the series. While it contains an important development for Fidelma’s future, this is sort-of shoe-horned in at the end (not for the first time in the series), so this isn’t a crucial read for semi-regular readers. While fans of the series won’t want to miss out on any entry in the series, this isn’t the place to start for people wanting to try the series out – I’d recommend going straight to the beginning, Absolution by Murder. For regular readers though, it’s Worth A Look.