The Seventh Trumpet by Peter Tremayne is the 21st mystery of ancient Ireland featuring Sister Fidelma of Cashel, now a married woman, but still a dedicated advocate for the law (available July 23, 2013).
Although we think of the seventh century as a primitive time, the Dark Ages if you will, Ireland was then a civilized country land bound by laws. “Even the King,” Fidelma of Cashiel says more than once, “is not above the law.”
Ireland was also a Christian land that in some ways seems more progressive than our own. Clergy were allowed to marry and women could rule, inherit and become advocates and judges. In this, the 21st mystery in the Sister Fidelma series, which can be read alone, she has left the religious order. She says, “I was trained, as you may know, as an advocate of our law system. I found that many matters I was concerned with in law conflicted with the tenets of religious life. I therefore terminated my role as a religious so I could concentrate on the law.”
But people, as we all know, break laws.
When the body of a murdered nobleman is discovered on the land of a farmer. Fidelma and her husband Eadulf, and her two warrior companions, Gorman and Enda, depart her brother’s court to investigate. The trail leads first to a priest who is drowning himself in alcohol and who is found dead before Fidelma can speak to him. A monk named Biasta also arrives to question the priest, claiming to be a cousin. His lies make Fidelma suspicious but before she can question Biasta further he escapes on Enda’s horse.
Fidelma and her entourage set off in pursuit, following the strange monk north and west.
Of course the situation rapidly becomes far more complicated. Each question spawns more questions. Who was the young victim? Who were the high-born lady and knight spotted in the area? Who is the traveling bard, Torna, and why is he being pursued? Who is the woman in scarlet and purple leading a band of warriors in raids against the small settlements? Why are there new highways across bog land? Why does the abbot at the end of this highway ignore the laws of hospitality? And most of all, what is the reason underpinning and connecting all of these events? Touches of Gaelic lend a strong sense of place throughout:
At her waist she wore a girdle, a críss or belt, from which hung her comb bag, the cíorbholg, which all women carried, containing the articles needed for toiletry.
But what impressed me most was the importance of law in this society. In this new entry, although she is still a dalaigh, or advocate, she has left the religious order. She explains her decision:
‘I was trained, as you may know, as an advocate of our law system. I found that many matters I was concerned with in law conflicted with the tenets of religious life. I therefore terminated my role as a religious so I could concentrate on the law.’
We think of the seventh century as a primitive time, but Ireland was then a civilized country land bound by laws and customs that governed every part of life, including the treatment of travelers.
‘And now, Fidelma of Cashel, how can we be of service to you?’ The abbot tried to sound polite but his tone was strained.
‘Has your steward not informed you of what service we require?’ Her voice was mild.
The young man shifted his weight awkwardly at the abbot’s side.
‘As you have seen for yourself, our abbey is but newly constructed and lacks facilities,’ the abbot replied, spreading his hands and trying to sound apologetic. ‘Perhaps my steward did not explain—’
‘No explanation was necessary,’ Fidelma replied easily. ‘The law and custom is firm on this point. Were this but a lowly shepherd’s hut, the law would still be the law. This abbey, I believe, was first constructed by Chaemóc seventy years ago. I see that much building has been done since then, but that does not mean all etiquette is lost nor the law ignored.’
Even friends and allies cannot be trusted in this multi-layered and complex mystery. Fidelma reminds several characters that no one is above the law, not even the King. Under the pseudonymous identity of a Celtic scholar, Peter Tremayne’s historical knowledge is fully on display and gives richness and color to the story, but is never overwhelming. He is something of a folk hero in Ireland, and this book clearly demonstrates why.
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Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. A career librarian, her most recent historical mystery featuring Will Rees, a Revolutionary War veteran turned weaver is Death of a Dyer. She lives in New York.