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The Chalice of Blood: A Mystery of Ancient Ireland by Peter Tremayne
Cover Artist: David Baldeosingh Rotstein
Review by Mel Jacob
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312551216
Date: 25 October 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Peter Tremayne offers one of Fidelma of Cashel's most complex mystery in The Chalice of Blood, the twenty-first Fidelma mystery. Set in 7th Century Ireland, the novel follows Fidelma and her husband Brother Eadulf as they try to find the killer of a respected scholar and monk. The dead monk was found in a locked cell and all his papers and manuscripts are missing.

Fidelma, sister to the High King and a Brehon, is dedicated to the law and its preservation. She is often called upon to adjudicate conflicts and at times to solve murders. Some of the conflicts arise from new changes in religious orders that adopt the Roman tenets rather than the Irish ones. The Roman rules have turned toward celibacy and punishment as per "an eye for an eye" for religious orders. Initially a member of a religious order, Fidelma now wants to devote herself fully to the law.

As Fidelma, Eadulf, and a warrior travel to the scene of the murder, they are attacked. The warrior slays one attacker, but the other, an albino, escapes. They complete their journey without further difficulty. At the abbey, they encounter an arrogant steward who has usurped the abbot's power and tries to block their efforts.

Those new to Tremayne's novels will find Fidelma's attitudes surprisingly modern and the ancient laws of the five kingdoms of Ireland more liberal than Roman law. Eadulf acts in a supportive, secondary role akin to the role woman used to play and that at times annoys him. The fact he is a Saxon and not an Irishman also causes difficulties. Their marriage has suffered and they hope to repair their relationship.

The novels, while following Fidelma's life and relationships, can be read individually. Tremayne provides translation for Latin hymn, and other sayings as well as for Irish words. His work stands well against other historical mysteries such as Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries set several centuries later. Those who like 'locked room' mysteries will enjoy this one.

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