Behold a Pale Horse: Sister Fidelma Mystery
by Peter Tremayne
Cover Artist: Teresa Fasolino
Review by Mel Jacob
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312658632
Date: 17 July 2012 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Peter Tremayne adds to his list of Fidelma mysteries with Behold a Pale Horse set in Northern Italy. Sister Fidelma is journeying to Ireland from Rome, but is shipwrecked in Genoa. There, begins the adventure that will take her to the wilds of the Longobards, multiple murders, and political intrigue. She needs all her intelligence and skills as a lawyer to decipher the clues and avoid becoming a victim.
She is a dálaigh, an advocate of the Irish law court, and has been called upon to investigate crimes and solve them. As single woman, she also sought refuge as a sister in a religious order, but in the Irish church those in the orders are allowed to marry, and she has not committed herself as a nun.
Chronologically, this novel comes after the second Fidelma mystery, Shroud for the Archbishop, set in 664 A.D. After solving that murder and ending shipwrecked in Genoa, she sees an older religious attacked and aids him. He is from Bobium, the same monastery where her old teacher Brother Ruadán now serves, and he invites her to accompany him there. On the trip, some men attack and wound a young brother traveling in the party. Guards from the local lord chase the men away and they continue on to monastery.
On arriving, Fidelma learns Brother Ruadán was badly beaten a week or so before by those who disagreed with his perspective on religion and is not expected to live long. She sees him briefly, and, in spite of his weakness, he warns her to leave. He tells her the abbey is evil and speaks of returning something to a watery grave. Concerned for his condition, she urges him to rest and promises to return later.
The abbey segregates the sexes except for the evening meal and certain services. However, Fidelma is housed in the main abbey both because of her rank as princess and to enable her to visit Ruadán. Later, she again visits Ruadán, and he speaks of gold coins and the murder of Wamba, a goatherd. On her next visit, she discovers he has died, but also notices his ragged, bloody nails and blood spots on his face. From this, she deduces that he had been smothered to death.
Meanwhile political and religious intrigue creates uncertainty. The previous king of the Longobards plans to retake the throne and is marshalling rebels to help. A religious split exists between the followers of Arius who saw Christ as a subordinate of God instead of an equal as in the Trinity. Fights break out between various factions on both sides. Ruadán preached against the Arius doctrine and was then beaten, yet his killer had to be one of the Bobium brothers.
Determined to bring Ruadán’s killer to justice, Fidelma decides to learn more about the gold coins. She persists, but then others who knew about the coins die. In the end, her efforts provide answers to more than the murderer of Ruadán.
A noted historian, Tremayne has written some twenty Sister Fidelma mysteries. Fidelma fan clubs exist world wide. These novels are recommended for those who like both good historical mysteries and novels set primarily in Ireland.