Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Behold a Pale Horse, #23 in the Sister Fidelma series featuring an Irish nun, takes a backward jump to follow the second mystery in the series, Shroud for the Archbishop, set in Rome in 664 A.D. Fidelma is young but of high status, being a well educated dálaigh, or lawyer, and a king's daughter. Furthermore, she knows the self-defense technique of troid-sciathagid, "taught in ancient times by those wise teachers who felt it wrong to carry arms to protect themselves." Having earned the pope's praise for solving a murder in Rome, she is now diligently striving to remain humble.
Delayed in an Italian harbor town during her homeward journey, Fidelma sees a pair of thugs stalking an elderly man in religious garb. After she intervenes and the thugs flee, she learns that Ado is returning to his abbey of Bobium, where her beloved old teacher Ruadán lies near death. Ado tells her that Ruadán was attacked by Arian heretics. Privately, Fidelma finds the Arian creed more intriguing than offensive, with its logical argument that if God the Father created all things, he must have created Christ and the Holy Spirit who, therefore, cannot be His equals. Reaching Bobium, she discovers tension building inside as well as outside the abbey. Could it involve a treasure from the time of the Roman Empire: the Gold of Tolosa?
The final unraveling of the motives behind the murders is complex; readers will be glad of the "Principal Characters" list to help them keep Wolfoald, Wulfila and Waldipert straight. There is plenty of suspense along the way, though, and an engaging heroine. For history lovers, the most interesting part of Behold a Pale Horse may be its portrayal of the culture clashes of seventh-century Europe. Peter Tremayne is a pen name used by Peter Berresford Ellis, who also writes nonfiction on ancient Celtic and Irish history. He offers readers unfamiliar with the latest scholarly views of the early Middle Ages many fresh and exciting insights. (2011; 370 pages)
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