Dancing with Demons: A Mystery of Ancient Ireland
by Peter Tremayne
Review by Mel Jacob
St. Martin's Minotaur Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312375645
Date: 28 October 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The thirteenth Sister Fidelma mystery, Dancing with Demons by Peter Tremayne, puts lawyer and judge Fidelma of Cashel in the midst of a High King's assassination. Set in 669 A.D. Ireland, politics and religion collide. As a neutral party, the Great Assembly asks her to determine why a rival chieftain killed the high King and then committed suicide. The Great Assembly seeks assurance no conspiracy is involved.
Emotions run high and the apparently simple crime becomes complex as Fidelma delves into the events surrounding the death and the motives of those involved. When facts conflict with the testimony of witnesses, she digs until she discovers why. Fidelma persists when others would rest, determined to resolve all the various inconsistencies. She believes the fate of the five kingdoms and possible civil war hang on the solution.
Various factions want to determine the results, and Fidelma finds herself captive, her husband missing, and the fate of the investigation in doubt. She refuses to abandon her investigation, but takes time to find her husband.
Most readers will enjoy the bits of Irish history and insights into the workings of the laws and courts of ancient Ireland. Women hold roles of importance, although Fidelma exceeds most. The daughter of a king, a religious (she almost took the veil), a trained lawyer (similar to France's investigating judges), and an intelligent investigator, she brings formidable skills to solving the mystery. At this time, Irish clerics could marry and sire children. Fidelma married Brother Eadulf, a Saxon who had attended a major medical college, and they have a young son.
Tremayne delays a surprise for readers until Fidelma presents her report to the Great Assembly. Some may quibble he withheld information, but the facts and testimony uncovered by Fidelma make it possible for careful readers to work out a solution. However, few will manage to unravel all the various aspect of the assassination.
Tremayne is the pseudonym of scholar Peter Berresford Ellis. He sprinkles his narrative with Gaelic words and names. He provides translations for the reader, some via Eadulf, husband of Fidelma. At times, these explanations become distracting, especially when three religious (those serving the church) translate Latin for each other.
Those who enjoy historical mysteries such as Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries will enjoy the Sister Fidelma series. Fans have formed an international society and have held meetings in Cashel, Ireland. A bed and breakfast near Cashel has been named for her.