A third appearance for Sister Fidelia (Shroud for the Archbishop, 1996, etc.), an advocate of the courts in seventh- century Ireland. Fidelia is the sister of Colg£, who has just become king of Muman, the largest of the five Irish kingdoms, after the death of his cousin King Cathal. Colg£ has asked his sister, skilled in detection, to solve the mystery of the killing of elderly, highly respected Venerable Dac†n, from the Kingdom of Laigin, who was stabbed to death while doing research in the Abbey of Ros Ailither, in Colg£'s domain. Now Laigin's King Fianamail is demanding heavy penalties for the death, and Colg£ hopes that Fidelia's expertise will remove his culpability. She sets out for the abbey with her brother's trusted aide Cass. On the way they encounter the sad remains of a village ravaged by order of Salbach, chief of the fighting unit Corco Loigde. They gather up survivor Sister Eisten and the few remaining children, putting them in the abbey's care while Fidelia begins her investigation. Many more will die as she begins to unearth an underlying cause of the ongoing mayhem--a search for the missing son and heir of Illan, ruler of the long-coveted petty kingdom of Osraige. This is revealed and, in a twisty finale, so is the identity of Dac†n's killer, as Fidelia makes her case before the Dal--the assembly of the High Court. Endless subplots, characters by the dozen, and the author's determination to educate the reader in the politics, laws, customs and topography of the country make for heavy going. Scholars may love it; for the average reader, though, more penance than pleasure.