Seventh century Ireland and Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf are adjusting to both married life and parenthood. The peaceful life doesn’t last for long though, as they are summoned to Rath Raithlen, a community living in terror. For the last three full moons, a young woman from the community has been found out in the wilderness, their bodies ripped apart. With the next full moon – the so-called Badger’s Moon – fast approaching, Fidelma and Eadulf find themselves in a race against time to find an actual lunatic.
Tensions are already rising in the community though. Two of the families are locked in a long-running feud, one convinced that the other’s son killed their daughter. Others in the community have other ideas – there are strangers from foreign shores staying in the nearby monastery and they are feared due to the strange colour of their skin… (remember, it’s seventh century Ireland)
As things become more and more complicated, the killer strikes again and there is a small army on the warpath… Can Fidelma bring the culprit to justice before more lives are lost?
What’s the best way of describing the feeling that this book brought to me? Imagine you’ve been on holiday for a while. You enjoy the holiday, have a lovely time lying in the sun by the side of the pool, but nothing quite beats coming home.
For a while, I’ve been almost exclusively been reviewing new titles that have been sent to me – with the exception of a couple of Paul Doherty novels, obviously – but it’s been a while since I’ve read something that embraced the classic mystery format as much as this book. Sure, a couple came close – The Darkening Glass and The Edwin Drood Murders – but the clues weren’t really there to be interpreted in advance, or there was only one hint for the reader to spot.
As is often the case with Peter Tremayne’s books, the plot is right out of the classic mystery mold. Clues, multiple goings-on, lots of theorising (some correct, much of it incorrect) and a clever yet simple solution to everything. Plotwise, this is almost perfect. The murderer isn’t obvious, and the cynical sleuth might be surprised that everyone (apart from Fidelma, of course) overlooked the crucial clue. But it’s a very satisfying mystery all round. Not the hardest to solve – I solved it, after all, but played perfectly fair and I did miss a bit of the solution.
The characters are well-drawn and distinct and Tremayne does a good job with their varying attitudes – in particular not making more of an issue than necessary of the conflict with the Ethiopian monks and the townsfolk. Another author might have made more of an issue with the racism, adding layers of modern attitudes to the tale, but I felt the author did a really good job of getting the balance right here.
There are a couple of weaknesses that tend to crop up in the series that I’m pleased to say don’t crop up this time. Sometimes the lectures on Irish law can interrupt the flow, but here they’re not only relevant, but both interesting and briefer than usual. Also, in recent books, Fidelma and Eadulf’s relationship has jumped ahead into marriage and pregnancy with no real sense of the emotional involvement here – in part due to the fact that Fidelma is not very good at expressing her emotions, but that fact isn’t always apparent, leading to the conclusion that it’s the writer’s fault. Certainly skipping key stages in their relationship is an odd choice – you might have guessed that the pregnancy announced in the previous book was an immaculate conception! Tremayne takes a few quiet moments this time to give some much needed emotional background to their relationship and it’s much appreciated.
Anyway, as you can probably guess, this is Highly Recommended.
My copy was bought for a pittance from World Of Books, an excellent second hand book provider. Do check out their website for a bundle of bargains – even a couple of copies of this one for under three quid!