Eber is a the chieftain of Araglin, a man with a good reputation in the area. Oh, sorry. Eber WAS the chieftain, as one morning, his household is woken by the discovery of his body, stabbed to death. Luckily, next to him, covered in blood and holding a knife is a convenient scapegoat, the young man Moen, ward of Eber’s sister. One slight problem with the theory of Moen’s guilt is that he is deaf, blind and mute.
Needless to say, the folk of Araglin are more than happy to let Moen be punished for the crime, despite the obvious “how the blooming heck could he have done it” question, and, since the only person who could communicate with him, Eber’s sister, has also been conveniently murdered, who can possibly stand up for this probably-innocent young man?
Enter Fidelma, advocate of the Irish law, and her companion Eadulf. Fidelma immediately smells a rat, but investigations prove difficult when no-one wants her there. And the local gang of cattle-rustling ruffians aren’t helping much either. As Fidelma contends with the murder, the gang and an escalating dispute between two farmers, it seems impossible that all of these things can be related. But as the threads draw together, a surprising picture is revealed.
You know, in all my praise for Paul Doherty, I do feel that I don’t give Peter Tremayne enough credit. This is the fifth in the series and I’ve really enjoyed every one of them. They have a real detective story at the heart of them – in fact, in every book so far, Fidelma’s even gone as far as getting the suspects together for a final-denouement lecture – and the way the threads weave together is a clear demonstration that these books are, first and foremost, mysteries.
They’re not the toughest mysteries to solve, but Tremayne makes sure there is plenty going on with bucket-loads of red herrings. One particularly nice bit here was how the motive for Eber’s murder ties in the overall scheme – I’ll say no more than that, for fear of spoilers, but I thought this was rather clever. The murderer’s a bit better hidden in this one that in some of the previous books, but a couple more credible suspects might have hidden them a little better, but that’s a minor quibble.
As before, the background of seventh-century Ireland reveals itself to be far from the primitive land that you might expect, and I was impressed with the method of communication devised for Moen. It did seem a little far fetched until I remembered that Tremayne (aka Peter Beresford Ellis) is a scholar of the time and I trust that it’s actually based on something.
So, once again, highly recommended – and I won’t leave it so long before I come back to the series again.