Tremayne is undoubtedly brave in setting such a well-trodden genre as the detective novel in a period which we know so little about, but his huge breadth of knowledge on 7th century Britain and of the Celts means that, whilst reading Absolution by Murder, the first Sister Fidelma novel, one never gets the feeling that these events could not have happened. Without boring the reader, Tremayne paints a detailed and thoroughly convincing canvas of a North British monastery community.
Sister Fidelma is a worthwhile detective, and, whilst occasionally her effasiveness becomes tedious, her character is full of zest and is likeable. Brother Eadulf, the Saxon monk, plays his role of the less-clever-than-the-main-sleuth sidekick well, and (which is a change) he is usually on the same level as Fidelma, finding some stuff out for himself. His character is also well-rounded and lively. The entire cast of characters in this widely-populated novel are almost without exception uniquely-characterised - Tremayne seems to take great pleasure in creating such odd misfits of characters, out of whom we must select the murderer!
The plot of Absolution by Murder is exciting, and the added suspense of a deadline set by the King for Sister Fidelma to unravel the foul murder at hand is well-used. Twists and misdirections abound, the author knows precisely what to do, and how to make the reader believe he or she knows the outcome, before sprining the climactic revelation in a rather anachronistic "Now I'm sure you're all wondering why I brought you all here tonight" gathering at the end.
Well-written and detailed, Ansolution by Murder is a good, light novel which will appeal to both fans of detective fiction and of historical novels. Sister Fidelma will go far.