Behold a Pale Horse

by Peter Tremayne


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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Other mysteries set in medieval Ireland:

Shroud for the Archbishop by Peter Tremayne (1995), #2 in the Sister Fidelma series, which takes place just before the story in Behold a Pale Horse, with Sister Fidelma investigating a murder in Rome. More info

My Lady Judge by Cora Harrison (2007), about a woman who is a Brehon judge in Burren, Ireland, and must investigate the death of a man during the 1509 May Day festival; #1 in the Burren Mysteries series. See review or more info at Powell's Books


Nonfiction by Peter Berresford Ellis, who writes fiction as Peter Tremayne:

The Druids (1994). More info

Celtic Women: Women in Celtic Society and Literature (1995). More info

The Celts: A History (revised edition, 2003). More info


Online:

Arianism at Wikipedia


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