The intrepid Sister Fidelma is at sea—aboard the Barnacle Goose on pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James and afloat a thousand of her own musings, religious and secular. Before the seventh-century sleuth (The Monk Who Vanished, 2001, etc.) can sort through her conflicting professional and personal roles, she’s overwhelmed by bickering among disagreeable shipmates and the dumbfounding reappearance after ten years of her first love. Once a dashing warrior who cruelly betrayed Fidelma’s girlish heart, Cian now affects religious garb that hasn’t curbed his womanizing ways. Indeed, he seems the center of a high-seas web of wanton lust that will leave bodies piled up to the water-line. Investigator Fidelma can’t avoid being drawn into the wake of questions following the disappearance of Sister Muirgel during a storm: How could such a seasick young woman have had the strength to haul herself on deck to be swept over? But what respectable murderer would have left behind her bloody robe? Virtually every pilgrim aboard this ship of fools has been entangled with the promiscuous daughter of a nasty noble; now Fidelma must keep her wooden world safe enough from shipwreck and Saxon slavers to investigate.
The sea voyage is epic and some of the cast grandiose, but the scale here is mock-heroic, the sins petty, and the murderer predictable. Though Fidelma emerges as more human than before, the loose ends in the rigging are realistic in all the wrong ways, especially when clearing suspects relies so much on looks of blank astonishment.