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The Subtle Serpent
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0451195582, Mass Market Paperback)Seventh century Ireland provides the background in Peter Tremayne's newest murder mystery which begins gruesomely as two nuns pull a decapitated corpse from their drinking well. Sister Fidelma is called upon to determine who the body is and how she met her untimely end. Fidelma, as an advocate of the courts, is the appropriate person to collect evidence and determine if there is a case to be answered. Although Tremayne makes clear in his introduction that women under Irish law in the period aspired to and performed most professions on a similar footing with men, he does not neglect the opportunity to place Fidelma in situations where both her youth and gender raise the question of her suitability for her official capacity. Still, her enjoyment in convincing her doubters of her abilities and her ultimate success indicate, as Tremayne evidently intends, that this particular period, at least as Ireland as concerned, should not be characterized as a dark one.
En route to the scene of the crime that opens the story, Sister Fidelma encounters a second curiosity, a ship foundering in the waves without a person on board. What Fidelma does discover are hints that an old and trusted friend was aboard and seems to have met the same mysterious fate as the rest of the crew and cargo, whatever that might have been. The novel proceeds as Fidelma sets out to determine the cause of each of her mysteries, and what if any is the connection between them. Tremayne is a careful and engaging storyteller; his characters are thoughtfully drawn, and he uses the central mystery for them to discuss and reflect upon the differences between the native Irish church and that of Rome (which is becoming the more powerful--and whose ultimate success will keep women like Fidelma out of the halls of power which she has confidently and capably strode.)
The ecclesiastical period setting may remind readers of the work of Ellis Peters, but the 7th century is distinct from the 12th and Ireland distinct from England. Tremayne relishes those differences, creating a tale that has much to enlighten and intrigue his readers and make them anxious for the next time Sister Fidelma is called to perform her duties.
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:02 -0400)
In 7th century Ireland, Sister Fidelma investigates a headless female corpse in the drinking well of a remote abbey. In one hand the victim holds a crucifix, in the other a pagan death symbol.
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