THE SUBTLE SERPENT by Peter Tremayne


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Another tangled chronicle set in seventh-century Ireland featuring Sister Fidelma of Kildare (Suffer Little Children, 1997, etc.). Fidelma, sister of King Colg£ of Muman and a respected advocate of the law courts, has been sent to the remote coastal Abbey of the Salmon of Three Wells to investigate the case of a headless, unidentified body of a young woman discovered in a water well. Fidelma’s journey to the Abbey, in a coastal barque sailed by stalwart captain Ross, presents its own mystery when a foundering merchant ship from Gaul is boarded by Ross and found to be abandoned. Fidelma is received by arrogant Abbess Draigen and soon becomes aware of the bitter enmity between the Abbess and her brother Adn†r, chieftain of a nearby fortress—a hatred that extends to Adn†r’s close companion Brother Febal, once Draigen’s husband. Fidelma’s task is complicated further when another decapitated body—that of the Abbess’s steward Sister S°omha—is found in the clock tower. Meanwhile, Fidelma uncovers rumors of a treasure in gold; ferrets out a brewing insurrection against her brother the King; finds her old friend the Saxon monk Eadulf imprisoned in a copper mine; and makes numerous and complex discoveries that, in time, lead to the accomplishment of her original mission. There’s too much of everything here—characters, twists of plot, ancient manuscripts, feudal and religious history, and much, much more. Even the author’s considerable storytelling skill can’t overcome the massive obstacles burdening the narrative. A bonanza for students of the period; a heavy slog for anyone else.

Pub Date: July 10th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18670-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998


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