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I like history and I like mysteries, so when they both come together, I’m thrilled. That’s one of the reasons this series is a favorite, another is that it portrays Ireland as it was when it was an independent country with a complex culture, which was very different from the English invaders.
Ancient Irish culture was very egalitarian; ruled by kings who were chosen, not inherited, where women had equal standing and the elderly were honored and cared for. The legal system, Brehon Law , was intricate, so there were people called dalaighs, which were a combination of lawyer and judge, who interpreted them. This is what our heroine is, Sister Fidelma of Cashel, the daughter and sister of kings, as well as a nun.
Tremayne’s series, which extends to 20 novels and several short story collections, begins in 664 AD. At this time, the Catholic Church allowed those in the religious community to marry(even Popes) and there were mixed houses, monks and nuns living together. However, the Rule of Benedict was altering things, becoming stricter, introducing celibacy and the separation of genders. These drastic changes hover in the background and causes friction in some instances.
Sister Fidelma travels around Ireland and the Continent in her various roles and always finds a crime to solve. Naturally, in those days without fingerprinting and DNA samples, she mainly uses logic and observation to determine the culprit. She is often helped by Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk whom she has romantic feelings for and are reciprocated.
The author, a renowned Celtic scholar, mixes Irish and Latin terms into the narratives and the details of obsolete customs and settings makes them very vivid. He also describes the natural world as much as other factors, which helps the reader to feel transported. The series has a similar atmosphere to the Brother Cadfael mysteries, perhaps because of the monastic settings, though Ellis Peter’s monk lives five centuries later, European civilization has not advanced too much in the interim. So, if you are like me and enjoy being taken to another time and place, I can highly recommend the Sister Fildelma series.
Signet paperbacks, each aprox. 300 pp. Some are available in ebook format, as well as traditional