Just when the seventh-century inheritors of ancient Irish feuds are meeting to talk peace, an assassin wounds both Colgu, the king of Muman, and his antagonist Donennach, prince of the Ui Fidgente. Even though he was also a target, Colgu must prove as host that he wasn’t behind this plot gone awry, or the mandated retribution will cost his kingdom. Luckily, Colgu’s sister is that famous sleuth and Brehon investigator Sister Fidelma (Valley of the Shadow, 2000, etc.). As Fidelma wonders why a professional archer missed such an easy shot, why he left identifying arrows at the site, and why avengers from the Ui Fidgente bring back his body unnecessarily dead, she learns that the archer’s accomplice, also deceased, was a vanished monk, the guard of the Holy Relics of the Blessed Ailbe. Symbolic guarantors of Muman stability, these relics disappear, further dispiriting a populace and an investigator already in the midst of dangerous political chaos. Still, the Fidelma is more than a match for her prey, even hidden as her quarry is beneath the sheepskins of diverse characters with equally good motives and the melodramatic threats of wolves marauding in wood and abbey.
Enough brain-twisting names and geographical detail to make readers grateful for the maps and cast list. But gratuitous detail about, for example, four-chamber bellows and children’s game balls can overwhelm any attempt to eliminate the red herrings in the interest of the atmospheric settings and occasionally gripping narrative.