The Gospel of Mary

Written by Philip Freeman
Review by Kristen McDermott

This is the third in Freeman’s popular Sister Deirdre mystery series set in 6th-century Ireland. Deirdre is a multitalented sleuth who is both a Christian nun and a Druid bard, and her privileged status allows her the freedom to travel around Ireland solving problems and frustrating the cynical designs of powerful men. She and her colleagues at St. Brigid’s Abbey in Kildare have strangely contemporary views on equal rights, humanism, science, literacy, and medicine, but Freeman’s command of life in the ancient world is impressive, and he has an admirably efficient way with a plot. This installment is not so much a mystery as an extended chase over a large chunk of Ireland (at a somewhat incredible pace), as Deirdre and her friend Dari try to stay ahead of church authorities while they carry to safety a long-lost papyrus that they believe contains the first-person reminiscences of Jesus’s mother, Mary.

Half this short novel is a translation of Mary’s “gospel,” which is actually a simple—but touching—retelling of the events of the New Testament from her point of view. Deirdre finds both friends and adversaries in her headlong race to get the papyrus translated before it falls into the clutches of the misogynistic Abbot of Armagh, her longtime foe. If you overlook the simplistically modern voices and attitudes Freeman gives his characters, it’s actually an absorbing story, and offers just enough of Deirdre’s background to be enjoyable without having read the first two books in the series.