In the spring of 666 A.D., Sister Fidelma is summoned to the small Irish village of Araglin. An advocate of the Brehon law courts as well as a religieuse, she is to investigate the murder of the local chieftain. While traveling there with her friend Brother Eadulf, a band of brigands attacks the roadside hostel in which they are staying and attempts to burn them out. While Fidelman and Eadulf manage to beat back their attackers, this incident is only the first in a series that troubles them. When they arrive at Araglin, they find out that the chieftain was murdered in the middle of the night, and next to his body, a local deaf-mute man was found holding the bloody knife that killed him.
While everyone else seems convinced that the man's guilt is obvious, sister Fidelma is not so sure. As she investigates, she's convinced that there is something happening in the seemingly quiet town--something that everyone is trying very hard to keep from her. In what may be the most challenging and confusing situation that she has yet faced, Fidelma must somehow uncover the truth behind the chieftain's murderer and find out what is really going on beneath the quiet surface of this rural town.
Rich with Irish lore, Tremayne's fifth entry in his Sister Fidelma series (following The Subtle Serpent) introduces readers to further Celtic law, religion and mores in a multilayered search for a cold-blooded killer. In A.D. 668, Fidelma, an advocate in the law courts of Ireland, is sent by her brother, the king of Muman, to investigate the murder of a Celtic chieftain. Though a blind, deaf mute named M en was found holding a bloody knife near the chieftain's corpse, Fidelma and her Saxon friend Eadulf are not convinced that the man is guilty. For one thing, M en is also supposed to have killed the chieftain's sister, who raised M en since he was a babe, and Fidelma finds it hard to believe that in one night the blind deaf-mute would slay the two people in his compound who had befriended him. As Fidelma and Eadulf scrutinize the evidence, they cast about for other suspects among the chieftain's family and subjects. They find a daughter who hated her father and quickly took power after his death, a wife who scorned her husband, a cleric whose religion leans toward Roman practices and a wealthy cousin who assumed that he was the chieftain's heir. Despite several threats to their lives, the sleuthing sister and her sidekick persist and finally ferret out the culprit. In painstaking detail, Tremayne follows Fidelma's careful analysis of the facts while spicing the narrative with asides on the battle between Roman Catholic and Celtic views of theology and law. Though the secondary characters lack complexity, Fidelma's own is strong enough to carry the story, albeit slowly, to its finale.