670 A.D. Sister Fidelma of Cashel, as an advocate of the Breton law courts and sister of a king, takes on a new case. This, the 18th outing of this remarkable medieval mystery series, is recommended for those who are familiar with the series and who want to keep up with the ongoing story. I particularly love the charm of reading Irish history and the character of Fidelma, who personifies the 7th-century role of women, the history of the Church in those times, and the enlightened times that create a fertile ground for women in politics and the law. It is a series that enlightens and enriches but always entertains, not an easy combination to come by.
In this case, a cousin of Fidelma is killed by pirates on a ship sailing to Brittany, upon which Fidelma and her husband (Brother Eadulf) are also passengers. Throwing themselves overboard, they are picked up and taken to a small local island. Their rescuer turns out to be a monk, and although Eadulf is more relieved to have been rescued than anything else, Fidelma wants justice for her slain cousin and those the pirates captured onboard the Barnacle Goose.
Sister Fidelma begins to search for the Dove of Death, a man whose identity is unknown. Murders keep occurring, and as she delves into the local society and its past, it seems as if a local landowner and aristocrat may be involved—and perhaps he is even the Dove himself. Fidelma and Eaudulf are in increasing danger as the investigation continues, and Fidelma strives to find answers from the scattered clues to bring the case to a resolution before more deaths occur.
There is so much subtext here: the changing Church in regards to marriage and those who have taken religious vows (the Rule of Benedict requires total abstinence, a direction that Irish clerics do not practice) and in the evolving history of Ireland’s clergy, as compared to Rome’s. There is not enough Breton history here for me—Tremayne is well known for his inclusion of Irish historical information in his books, and since this is a new place, I would have liked to have known more about Brittany in those times. In addition, as in all Tremayne’s works, there are mythical places as well as real ones. I would love to have each book include maps that embrace both the reality of that medieval world, and the placement of the locations that are only in Tremayne’s imagination.
The Dove of Death moves smoothly, with Tremayne’s usual excellent writing—and with the exception of the maps and Breton history, it is up to par. Interesting intrigue, combined with ancient history and religious mores, feeds the mind and soul, while being a darn good read at the same time.