Sister Fidelma, an Irish nun, travels with a party of coreligionists to Whitby Abbey. There, a Synod is to be held presided over by Oswy, Saxon King of Northumbria. At stake is which set of rites, Celtic or Roman, the kingdom will follow. At issue is the form of clerical tonsure and the dating of Easter. When the Abbess Étaín, the leading speaker for the Celtic faction, is murdered Fidelma must investigate the crime.
An advocate in the Irish Brehon Court, she is well suited for her task. But Oswy, known to favour the Celts, must be impartial. She must work with Brother Eadulf, a Saxon from the Roman faction. As their investigations proceed and as the Synod continues, more murders threaten to plunge Northumbria into civil war.
There is much to like about this first work in the series. The clash of Irish and Saxon cultures maintain a dynamic tension through the work and while Fidelma is a more rounded character Eadulf is certainly not two dimensional.
Peter Tremayne (the pen name of Peter Beresford Ellis) is a Celtic scholar, and it shows in the detail that he brings to the work. Unfortunately, at times, it reads like an anti-Roman polemic. But, though it’s in the third person, the novel is clearly told from Fidelma’s point of view. Also, as her working relationship with Eadulf strengthens, Fidelma comes to appreciate (though still not necessarily agree with) the perspective that he brings.
I found the clues a little telegraphed, having guessed the guilty party less than half way through the book. However, the political intrigues stop it from being too predictable. If you like this period of history then this should be a series worthy of your consideration.