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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Chalice of Blood by Peter Tremayne

Genre: Historical Mystery

Setting: Ireland, A.D. 670

First Sentence: The snow had begun to descend in thick icy flakes, driving into their faces, cold and clinging, obscuring the path along the river bank and adding another coating to the already whitened landscape.

This novel is the 21st book in Tremayne's Sister Fidelma series.

In Tremayne's novels, the Ireland of the 7th century is in the early stages of incorporating Christianity into Irish society.  Traditional customs and laws often come in conflict with the new religion.

Ireland of the 7th century was a unique place for women.  They had almost complete equal rights with men.  Women could be highly educated and could hold secular leadership positions. 

This is the Ireland in which Fidelma lives.  Fidelma is a religieuse, essentially a nun.  She is a highly trained lawyer who is famous throughout the kingdom for her ability to solve mysteries.  Fidelma is also a princess.  Her brother is the king.

Fidelma is a strong willed woman who doesn't mince words.  This makes life especially difficult for Eadulf.  In the 7th century, clergy was allowed to marry.  Fidelma is married to Eadulf, a Saxon monk, and together they have a young son.

Each of Tremayne's novels about Fidelma stand alone as a complete story.  Running through all of the novels is the continuing story of Fidelma's relationship with Eadulf.  Eadulf plays "Watson" to Fidelma's "Sherlock".  By herself, Fidelma can solve most mysteries.  Yet, Eadulf often provides an important fact or legal reference which helps Fidelma prove her case.

Fidelma has recently decided to leave the religious life and devote herself completely to practicing the law.  Eadulf, on the other hand, would rather enter an abby and lead a quiet life with Fidelma and their son.  This disagreement threatens to destroy their marriage.

In this installment of the series, Fidelma and Eadulf are asked to investigate the murder of a young monk.  The monk has been found dead in his locked chamber.  Even before Fidelma and Eadulf arrive, they are attacked by unknown warriors.

As they investigate, Fidelma and Eadulf uncover a tangled web of clues.  Secrets, revenge, heresy, and madness combine to make this case an especially difficult one for Fidelma to solve.  In addition, there have been new attacks by the unknown warriors in the area.  Soon, the whole region could be thrown into bloody conflict.

Fidelma's high standing in the kingdom, allows her to lead conflicting leaders to a lawful solution.  When Fidelma eventually puts all the pieces together, her solution forms an interesting counterpoint to Fidelma's personal issues.

I really enjoy reading about Fidelma.  Tremayne does a great job of leaving clues and red herrings.  I am often surprised when Fidelma reveals the solution in the courtroom scene in the final few chapters.

I hope Fidelma and Eadulf can find a resolution to their differences in future episodes of the series.

I definitely recommend this enjoyable book!

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