January 15, 2014

Sister Fidelma Goes to Whitby

Absolution by Murder
by Peter Tremayne

Honestly, I have very mixed emotions about this little mystery novel. It is set at and during one of the most important events in the history of Christianity in the British Isles, a famous local council known as the Synod of Whitby.

St Hilda, shown holding
her abbey at Whitby
Some of my favorite saints in the early British church were involved in this synod, the subject of which was to determine whether or not the Christians of Britain would fall into line with liturgical and ecclesiastical practices promulgated by Rome. I especially admire St. Hilda of Whitby, abbess of a monastic establishment that housed both men and women; she was an amazing and formidable figure, as were many of the others who participated in the council.

Ruins of the Abbey of Whitby
Photo by Hugh Chappell

Indeed, this whole event is one of my favorites in British history (even though I can easily wax romantically nostalgic about the elements of Celtic Christianity that began to disappear as a direct result), which confirms my Geek status for life. So I loved reading this novel about it, but felt very ambivalent about some aspects of the author's handling of it, and especially his characterizations of some of the historical figures involved.

As a mystery, this book is acceptable, about average, but the starring sleuth, Sister Fidelma of Ireland, is quite an enjoyable character. She is an attorney, of all things, a legal expert recognized in the medieval Irish courts. Who knew that women could do such things in 7th-century Ireland? Sister Fidelma was a lot of fun; the rest of the book was readable, but not exemplary.


  1. Anything to do with convents and monasteries are a favourite of mine. Must be the convent upbringing.

  2. I do like the way authors go back and bring nuance and light to our understanding of "the Dark Ages." I think we put history into such constricted circumstances sometimes, not realizing that perhaps there was more flexibility than we can see.


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