Peter Tremayne (pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis) 1996
Sister Fidelma solves several murders in 7th-century Rome.
Sister Fidelma is a Celtic nun as well as a dalaigh, which means she is an advocate in the courts of the Five Kingdoms of Eirann. With the help of Saxon monk Brother Eadulf, Fidelma perseveres and prevails over church heirarchy and Roman custom to solve the murder of Archbishop Wighard, who was garrotted by his own prayer cord. Several more garrottings occur throughout the course of the book until Sister Fidelma, with the help of Brother Eadulf, names the killer.
Readers are treated to lots of historical tidbits about Rome, and I won’t deny that I enjoyed it when the more odious characters got their comeuppance. Overall, this was a solid read, well-researched and literate. There are lots of needlessly convoluted machinations and red herrings – and the scene of Fidelma’s exposure of the killer is excruciating. (“Name the killer, Sister!” followed by Fidelma asking for water because her mouth is dry and then slowly sipping the water, telling stories, asking people to write the name of a certain farmer down and pass it to someone else, etc.) I listened to the end at 200% playback speed.
The last scene in the book, in which Fidelma says goodbye to many other characters before hopping on a boat back to Ireland, is poignant; every goodbye carries the weight of knowing that paths are unlikely to cross again.
Narrator Caroline Lennon brings the voice of Sister Fidelma to life with admirable skill.
I recommend this series to anyone intrested in 7th-century Britain/Ireland, and this book in particular would be appeciated by those interested Roman history. I don’t know that I’ll read or listen to the rest of the series; it’s not one of the few for which I wait, breathless with anticipation, for the next installment to be published.