Penance of the Damned

Written by Peter Tremayne
Review by Ilysa Magnus

In 671 AD Ireland, Fidelma and her brother, King Colgu of Cashel, are shocked to learn of the murder of their esteemed bishop, Segdae, in a room, locked on the inside, at the old enemy fortress of the Ui Fidgente. The murderer is allegedly Gorman, commander of Colgu’s bodyguard and a loyal confidant of Fidelma’s, found with a weapon in his hand and unconscious. Fidelma sets out with her husband, Eadulf, to learn the truth. Is it possible that Gorman has committed this heinous crime, and if so, what motivated him? If not, what enemies are fomenting violence and treason? Will the Celtic models of punishment prevail over the Penitentials promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church?

I have been fortunate to have read all of the Fidelma books, and this is a dandy!  The plot is convoluted, and often we find ourselves as confused as the dalaigh as she tries to prevent Gorman’s execution under the Penitentials. The layers of the investigation go deep, and often it is difficult to figure out who the good guys and bad guys are.

As usual, Tremayne, a well-respected Celtic scholar, carefully depicts the time and place. How to keep the peace between formerly warring factions and differing positions on punishment are the underlying tensions succinctly captured through the plot. Fidelma and Eadulf have grown as characters, and there is something new we learn about each in succeeding installments.