670 AD, and Bishop Leodegar of Autun (in modern day Burgundy) has summoned a council for an emergency meeting to debate the future direction of elements of the church. Leaders from across Europe have come to attend, but even at the first evening’s meal, tempers are flaring. But worse is to come…
That night in one of the guest rooms, the resident is drugged, another delegate is lured to the room and is knocked unconscious (from behind) and a third delegate is found in the room, brutally murdered. The finger of blame is pointed to one of the two surviving delegates, but when Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf arrive (to advise at the council) and are asked to identify the killer, they find themselves looking beyond just the two men. Something sinister is brewing in the abbey, and the convent next door, and after more deaths, it becomes clear that Fidelma herself is in the killer’s sights…
The seventeenth novel in the Sister Fidelma series – there are currently twenty-six, I think. It’s a series that I’ve always championed on the blog, even giving Peter Tremayne his own page for the reviews, but I’ve neglected the series a little, allowing Paul Doherty and Michael Jecks to hog the medieval mystery limelight here. I can’t really explain why I’ve slowed down on this series – it’s not quite a year since the last one, Dancing With Demons – but I took advantage of the 20 Books Of Summer meme to nudge myself back on track.
I’m glad that I did. I imagine that some people wouldn’t go near a novel featuring a crime solving nun set in seventh century Ireland – probably those who’ve read those books about that crime solving monk in twelfth century Tewkesbury – but they’re missing a trick here. These are properly constructed mysteries, complete with a gathering of suspects to expose the guilty party, along with, usually, a scheme involving some daring capture and escape, with some obvious villains and at least one not-so-obvious one. And you might just learn something about the development of the early church.
Peter Tremayne aka Peter Beresford Ellis is one of the foremost experts on Ancient Ireland and his research and knowledge show through. At times the balance can tip a little too much towards the expertise, it’s never long before the book gets back to the mystery.
It’s not the strongest entry in the series – I found it a little tricky to remember which Brother was which in the abbey at times – and the first half of the book is a little talky but once the scale of the plot starts to become apparent (oh, don’t read the blurb, it does give away serious hints at what’s going on), it really kicks in. As I said, the identity of the killer is well-clued, and still comes as a surprise. Also, it’s nice to see Brother Eadulf being treated as an intelligent member of the “team”. There are times when he’s almost superfluous to the sleuthing, and others when he basically solves most of it, so it’s nice that this variance is actually addressed here.
Definitely worth looking at, although if you’re new to the series, I’d start at the beginning. Classic mysteries in an historic setting – Highly Recommended.