Peter Tremayne's sister act
I've just made my first acquaintance with the good investigating advocate and woman religious of seventh-century Ireland, and it's enough to know that Tremayne is a lively guide to an interesting but remote period of Western history.
How remote? More than a century before the Book of Kells, back to a time and place when Celtic and Roman churches contended for supremacy, when men and women shared abbeys and monastic foundations where they raised their children in the service of God. Ireland stood out at the time not just for its learning, Tremayne writes in a brief historical introduction, but for the opportunities it offered women:
"The Irish laws gave more rights and protection to women than any other western law code at the time or since. Women could, and did, aspire to all offices and professions as co-equals with men. They could be political leaders, command their people in battle as warriors, be physicians, local magistrates, poets, artisans, lawyers and judges. ... Women were protected by laws against sexual harassment; against discrimination; from rape; they had the right of divorce on equal terms ... "Tremayne, it seems, chose a suitable time and place for a series about a woman religious and dálaigh, or investigating magistrate.
The first in the series, Absolution by Murder, opens in the year 664, with Fidelma and a range of dignitaries arriving for a debate between the Celtic and Roman churches, the famous Synod of Whitby. What better background for a murder mystery than a momentous historical event? And what better opening for a crime story than a group of travelers finding a body hanging from a tree?
"It was not the fact that a man had been hanged on a crossroad tree that caused the small party of travelers to halt. The travelers had become used to witnessing ritual executions and punishments since they had crossed from the land of Rheged into the kingdom of Northumbria. ... The sight of one more unfortunate suspended on a tree no longer troubled them. What had caused the party to draw rein on their mounts, an assortment of horses and mules, was something else."I'm just two chapters in, but I can see already that Tremayne has an interesting way of handling dialogue. Without resorting to excessive archaisms or grating faux-medieval speak, he gives speakers a slight formality of tone. This adds flavor without hitting the reader over the head. Of course, most of the speakers thus far have been educated ecclesiastics, which could account for the hint of formality.
For some delightfully blunt thoughts from Peter Tremayne, see this interview on Crime Always Pays.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Irish crime fiction