In the late autumn of 666 A.D., Fidelma of Cashel - an advocate of the Brehon Courts, sister to the King of Cashel, and religieuse of the Celtic Church is at a crossroads. Needing to reflect upon her commitment to the religious life and her relationship to the Saxon monk Eadulf, she leaves Eadulf behind and joins a small band sailing from Ireland on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James in modern-day Spain. Her first surprise on-board is the appearance of Cian, her first love, a man who had deserted her ten years ago, and who stirs up memories she'd rather forget.
As if this wasn't complication enough, on the first night out the ship is tossed by a turbulent sea and a pilgrim disappears, apparently washed overboard. But the appearance of a blood-stained robe raises the possibility of murder and death continues to dog the tiny band of pilgrims trapped within the close confines of the ship. Battling against the antagonism of her fellow pilgrims, Fidelma is determined to solve this most perplexing of puzzles before the ship reaches the shrine and the killer, if there is one, disappears forever.
As usual, persuasive period detail lifts Tremayne's (The Monk Who Vanished) latest Sister Fidelma mystery. The year is A.D. 666. On Ardmore Bay, on the Irish south coast, a tavern keeper named Colla finds the body of a young woman killed with a knife. ("The white linen of her shift was ripped and torn and suffused in blood. He had never seen such savagery inflicted with a knife before. The body had been cut hacked as if a butcher had mistaken the young woman's soft flesh for that of a lamb to be slaughtered.") From then on, we are at sea in more ways than one: Sister Fidelma joins a small group sailing aboard The Barnacle Goose on a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of St. James. On the first night out, the ship is buffeted by a relentless storm, and Sister Muirgel is apparently washed overboard; a thorough search of the ship fails to turn up her body. When her bloodstained robe is found, murder is suspected, and Sister Fidelma begins an investigation; but things are not quite what they seem. With a killer on board, Sister Fidelma must solve the mystery and unmask the murderer before the ship reaches the shrine; unfortunately, the denouement, while plausible, is slightly disappointing after the elaborate buildup. Still, for those addicted to historical mysteries in general (and Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael series in particular), this delivers: the tactile and sensory impressions of being aboard a seventh-century sailing ship are vividly rendered, right down to the taffrail and the mainmast. Author tour. FYI:Tremayne is the pseudonym of Celtic historian Peter Berresford Ellis.