Seventh century Ireland, and the Venerable Dacan, an esteemed scholar is found murdered in his chambers in a remote monastery where he had been working. This proves to be the catalyst needed by a neighbouring kingdom to begin preparations for war.
Sister Fidelma is dispatched to uncover the truth, but before she reaches the abbey, she and her companion Cass come across a village destroyed by a local warlord under the pretence of containing the Yellow Plague. With no evidence of the plague, she takes the few survivors with her to the monastery, but death seems to follow them. Without the aid of the steadfast Brother Eadulf, can Fidelma find her way through the maze of lies and violence and prevent a war – or even stay alive?
It’s funny, but with my recent two reviews (here and here) of cozy mysteries, I was presuming that I was going to find something in the vein of Agatha Christie. What I found was one that didn’t even try and one whose heart was in the right place but didn’t really hit the spot. Here, we have a historical mystery with more blood and guts than Dame Agatha would include – but not too much, given the subject content – but everything else is in the right place. An intriguing mystery with a number of well-drawn suspects, clues that point in all directions but dovetail into one natural solution and, best of all, a summing up in front of all of the suspects at the end.
And on top of all of this, the book is a first class read.
It’s funny, but I’m finding this review fairly hard to write as I find it much harder to write praise that to criticise, but I can’t find anything to criticise. The story keeps moving forward, with all of the characters, especially Fidelma herself, leaping off the page. Fidelma gains some more character development as we see her here (in novel form at least) without Eadulf to partner up with and, bless her, she misses him.
Actually, there is one thing – Fidelma does seem to be a bit slow on occasion, in particularly with the location of the missing heirs to the throne, but it always helps for the reader to be ahead of the sleuth sometimes, and by giving them a head-start on something pretty obvious, it allows Fidelma to dazzle with her logic when she unmasks the villain of the piece. And I can almost guarantee, even though all of the clues are there, you will be surprised by the identity of the killer. Well, I was.
This is a superbly written mystery, with tragedy hanging over the plot like a shroud, but it is never a depressing read. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I look forward to the next in the series.