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Irish History made simple,
This review is from: Valley of the Shadow (Sister Fidelma Mysteries Book 6) (Kindle Edition)
Sister Fidelma is exactly the sort of heroine that Lisa Simpson would approve of. She is well-educated, smart, rather pretty and very self confident. In this adventure she is sent by her brother as an ambassador to a bunch of savage pagans in an isolated valley somewhere in Kerry, (I kept thinking of Doone Valley in Lorna Doone!), where she has to solve various gruesome murders. The detective element of these books is quite typical - false trails, unknown motives, reluctant witnesses - quite enjoyable, but nothing special.
The real attraction of this series is the light it sheds on a very unfamiliar period of history. In the seventh century, while the rest of Europe was shrouded in the Dark Ages, Ireland stood out as 'the Land of Saints and Scholars', with a well developed political and legal system, and the Celtic Church was in competition with the Roman Church for the hearts and minds of British and Irish Christians. Peter Tremayne obviously knows this era well and this book is crammed full of details and facts about the Irish 'Brehon law' system as well as the church and civil politics of the day.
In the previous books I read - Absolution by Murder set at the Synod of Whitby and Shroud for the Archbishop in which Fidelma visits Rome - I had found her assertiveness rather annoying ...'How dare a mere woman speak so boldly?' he wondered. Fidelma tossed her long auburn hair, in her homeland it was normal for women to be treated as equal - why were these foreigners so backward... . However, I liked this book alot more. Because it is set in Ireland there was not the constant underlining of how much better things are in her own country, and the characters were more varied and interesting in consequence. I even began to warm to Fidelma herself, and I have to admit to taking a childish pleasure in seeing names of towns and villages that are only a few miles away from me.
These books are generally a light and pleasant read, and once you get into the mystery you don't want to put them down; I tended to finish them in a sitting. The author is inclined to show off his knowledge a bit too obviously, but I find I can easily forgive him since the setting is so unfamiliar and the details and explanations are genuinely interesting. They are not great literature, but enjoyable reading and fascinating history; of the 3 Sister Fidelma books I've read this has been the best, although they do have some progression from one book from the next and maybe should be read in order.