Ireland, mid 7th century AD
Medieval Magic and Mystery
- Celtic Christianity
- worship of the Moon Goddess being practiced alongside that Christianity
- a hermit who lives alone in the forest and is not a Christian
- three monks from Abyssinia, shipwrecked on the west coast of Ireland
- and, of course, Fidelma's man, a Saxon in Ireland
At Rath Raithlen, a corner of the Kingdom of Muman (Munster), the chief, Brecc, is at his wits' end. Three murders have been committed in his small community in the last three months, each on a wooded hill known as the Thicket of Pigs and at the time of the New Moon, and each of the victims has been an attractive girl of around seventeen or eighteen.
Will another girl be brutally murdered at the next New Moon?
In desperation, he travels to Cashel, to the King, and invokes the aid of the King's own sister, the celebrated dalaigh or advocate, Fidelma of Cashel.
She needs little persuading to travel back with him to Rath Rathlain; indeed, in the view of her "man", the Saxon monk, Eadulf, she is somewhat over-enthusiastic, considering that they have a baby they will be leaving to the care of others. But Fidelma, suffering from what we would label post-natal depression, seems desperate to get away, to apply her mind to other problems.
And there is no shortage of problems in Rath Raithlen. Among those she has to face when she gets there are a trio of Abyssinian monks staying at the local abbey. As the abbey is situated right at the foot of the hill known as the Thicket of Pigs, and as the monks arrived in the area shortly before the first murder occurred, it is hardly surprising that the villagers believe they are the murderers (they are foreign, they are different) and want to lynch them before the next New Moon. Another is the local hermit and lore master (a non-Christian), who has been teaching anyone prepared to walk though the woods to his cave about the Moon Goddess and the Old Religion: all three of the murdered girls had been pupils of his.
A perfect setting for a good Medieval Mystery. My only problem with these excellently written books is that Sister Fidelma and all around her seem too civilized, too tolerant; in a word, too English. I realize that this is a point that Peter Tremayne is intent on making - that Ireland in the so-called Dark Ages was not dark at all - but I suspect that the reality of fifth to eighth century Ireland was as it is depicted in The Pagan Nun (highly recommended). And that the clash between Militant Christianity and the Old Religion was bloody, brutal and intolerant. As it was when the Gaels (the Scots) of Ireland brought Christianity to Alba (now Scotland) in the sixth century and wiped out not only the ancient religion and culture but almost all trace of the native (Pictish) population in what amounted to a massive "ethnic cleansing" (what an appalling euphemism!) if not outright genocide.
This review was written by James Munro (author of the Lady Marian/Dona Mariana novels, which are set in the 14th century). It appeared originally on http://www.MedievalMysteries.com, where you can find hundreds of other reviews by him and other reviewers including Kate (Kanti) Burns (whose own book review site is http://mahadeviyakka.wordpress.com ).
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