I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Valley of Shadows: A Celetic Mystery by Peter Tremayne

For those who haven't read any of the Sister Fidelma mysteries, she is a religieuse and former member of the community of St. Brigid of Kildare and a qualified dalaigh, or advocate of the ancient court laws, her life and times are explained in detail before you read any of the books.  These books take place in 666 AD Ireland at a time when there were five kingdoms. The Four provincial kings of Ulaidh, Connacht, Muman, and of Laigin all of which gave their allegiance to the High King of the fifth province, which is ruled from Tara, and which is an honorary title that rotates among the various kingdoms when each High King dies.  Among the provincial kingdoms, there were also smaller clan territories.

The Brehon Laws rule the land.  It is quite a system.  Women are able to hold any position they wish, including political positions, warriors, doctors, magistrates, lawyers, and judges.  They could divorce their husbands and receive part of the property and could inherit property.  They were protected from rape and sexual harassment. This land was the most feminist era until today.

Fidelma was born at Cashel, capital of the kingdom of Muman.  Her brother is their king.  At the age of fourteen, the Age of Choice, she chose to study the law and became one of the highest ranking members of the courts, a dalaigh.  The schools of Ireland were quite famous and people from all over Europe attended, since the rest of it was going through the Dark Ages.  A serious debate is going on between those who believe in being "Irish Christians" and Roman Christians.  Irish Christian priests could marry, be women (there was even a female bishop), and the monasteries and nunneries could be co-habituated with the religious marrying and raising their children in these places.  Roman Christians were now leaning toward making priests remain celibate, though that wouldn't be made a rule until around the 11th century.  In the 9th century, Ireland will convert to the Roman way of doing things, but they keep the Brehon Laws until the 17th century when the British outlaw them.

Having set the stage, the book begins with Fedelma's brother, Colgu of Cashel asks her to go to the remote valley of Gleann Geis whose people were mostly still practicing the Druid ways and talk to the chieftain, who has decided to build a school and a church for the growing number of Christians in his realm.  Fedelma sets out with her friend Brother Eadulf, a practitioner of the Roman ways, who works under the Bishop of Canterbury.  When they get close to their destination, they find thirty-three naked bodies in a sunwise circle and bearing the marks of the ancient threefold death, where the body is strangled, knifed, and bludgeoned, of pagan times.

Fedelma is duty bound to investigate but knows she must first go and greet Laisre, and attend her duty to her brother.  Olga, the chieftain's twin sister meets them and is shocked to find the bodies.  She gives her an escort into their nearly impregnable estate, that has only one way in and one way out and is against a mountain.  When she arrives, she discovers Brother Solin of Armagh of the Northern Kingdom, who believes he should be the religious leader of Ireland, and his scribe there under mysterious circumstances.

The negotiations get off to a rocky start and become interrupted when one-night Fedelma hears Brother Solin say that Cashel will fall by the end of the summer.  She leaves the hostel and follows him to the stable where she sees Olga, in a dark cloak leaving the stables and the dead body of Brother Solin within.  As she leans over the body to hear his last words, one of the sentries finds her and accuses her of murder.  Now Fedelma finds herself on the other end of the law and must trust her friend Eadulf to secure her release from prison in order to catch the thief herself.  Olga has the believable testimony of her husband that she was in bed that night, but Fedelma knows what she saw, even if it doesn't make sense.

This will not be the first death in this land and a larger, more fiendish plot is at work in Gleann Geis involving people from other kingdoms who wish to unite Ireland under one king's rule.  This is a really great series and I'm not just saying that because Fedelma is both Irish and a redhead.  There's always this undercurrent between her and Eadulf, who has sort of believes those who hold positions in the faith should be celibate.  Fedelma has found herself in a hostile land, made even more hostile after the death of Solin and her accusation of Olga.  Though there are some Christians, most of the people follow the old way and look at her with great suspicion.  You truly wonder if she will get out of this book alive and be able to stop an incredible plot and a murderer before the end is near.  This is one of the best of the series. 

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Valley-Shadow-Celtic-Mystery-Fidelma-ebook/dp/B007NKMZHQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1489583867&sr=1-3&keywords=valley+of+shadows

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