Place of Repose: St Cuthbert’s Last Journey

Written by Katharine Tiernan
Review by Julia Stoneham

Place of Repose is Katharine Tiernan’s second novel in a trilogy focused on the period in the history of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria which was, by 875 AD, being relentlessly ravished by the Danes.

Forced by necessity to flee from the monastery of Lindisfarne and bearing with them the precious relics of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels, the monks set out to find a place of sanctuary for their treasures. What follows is an astonishing account of determination, bravery and single-minded devotion to their cause, in which a fascinating political evolution is also taking place.

Katharine Tiernan’s prose is as clear-minded and unpretentious as it is beguiling. She is intensely immersed in her story and its location and captures a sense of time and place in an unpretentious and engaging style. The vision of that wet, damp mizzle and the sensation of chill winds contrasting with the rare bliss of roaring fires, makes blanched skin tingle. During the course of this epic undertaking, we explore the characteristics of those most closely involved in it and whose lives evolve within its complications and are inevitably changed by them.

I found it hard to retain the names and the “who is who” of such a plethora of people whom the reader needs to keep in focus. I also felt this work may narrow its readership appeal by overstating the history at the expense of the drama. It would be a pity if this prevented some readers from draining it to its dregs, as it is a delightful and attractively produced publication.