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by Peter Tremayne
St Martin's Minotaur, May 2004
384 pages
ISBN: 0312303823

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sister Fidelma is a religieuse of the Celtic Church in the seventh century. She is based in Ireland, where her brother is king of one of the five kingdoms, but does also travel to other lands -- Rome, Brittany, Wales, Spain . . . She is trained as an officer of the Irish court system, something between a defense attorney and an inspector, and uses her formidable powers of observation and deduction to solve problems and dispense justice.

Tremayne is a pen name for Peter Berresford, a respected Celtic scholar. He is careful to begin each book with an introduction to the history of Fidelma's time and place, which is a good thing because it is a world quite unlike most people's notions of the middle ages and without this information her behaviour and attitudes would be difficult to understand or even believe.

Fidelma is an extremely popular character and has been featured in some 14 volumes, of which this is the second collection of short stories. There are Fidelma Societies all over the world, apparently, including an online version .

All that said, I have to say that I am not, personally, a Fidelma fan. I have quite enjoyed learning about her world, of which I had not the least suspicion before I encountered her. And in fact I have found the ongoing (from book to book) tale of Fidelma's life and personal encounters somewhat interesting as well. While some people dislike her impatience and air of superiority, I rather enjoy her feistiness and, heck, she is superior!

What I don't enjoy are the mysteries; the ones I've read are uniformly plodding and predictable and tend to involve a discovery scene (you know, where the detective explains how the deed was done and elicits a confession from the villain) that is maddeningly long and tedious. Tremayne also has an unfortunate tendency to repeat in the story the information he gave in the introduction, sometimes more than once, which begins to feel like lecturing.

I had rather hoped that short stories, being, you know, short, would overcome this deficiency, but in this I have been disappointed. In fact, with the constraints of brevity upon him, Tremayne seems to have opted out of the characterization end of things altogether and gone straight for the lecture.

These stories are mostly basic mystery puzzles dressed up to illustrate some various aspects of the historical period. Fidelma followers will no doubt be sufficiently interested in these tidbits, but I think most other readers will find them pretty dull.

Reviewed by Diana Sandberg, June 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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