Tuesday ’Tec! The Spiteful Shadow by Peter Tremayne

Getting into the habit…


the spiteful shadowSince it’s Reading Ireland Month, how about a detective who’s also a nun in 7th century Ireland? Strictly speaking, Peter Tremayne is an Englishman, but since he is a Celtic historian and was made a life member of the Irish Literary Society in 2002, I hereby declare him an honorary Irishman for the purposes of this post. There’s no doubt about Sister Fidelma’s nationality – she was born into the royal family of Munster, and is both a lawyer and a Celtic nun. The Sister Fidelma series appears to be on book 26 – however, it’s new to me. This short story was originally published in 2005, so let’s see if Fidelma merits the title of…


Tuesday Tec


The Spiteful Shadow


by Peter Tremayne


Peter Tremayne
Peter Tremayne

Sister Fidelma has arrived at the Abbey of Durrow on a visit, only to be told by her old friend Abbot Laisran of a horrible murder that has taken place in the abbey. A young Sister is accused of killing one of the men in the community. But Abbot Laisran is worried…

“There are some things in life that appear so simple that you get a strange feeling about them. You question whether things can be so simple and, sure enough, you often find that they are so simple because they have been made to appear simple…”

Sister Scathach is a troubled young woman, who hears voices which she believes come from the Otherworld. These voices give her messages of doom – usually general ones about the destruction of the world and so on – and instruct her to give these messages out to the world. But one day, the message is more specific – that Brother Sioda is doomed to die by having his heart ripped out. And, just as she prophesied, the next day his bloody corpse is found spreadeagled on his bed. When the Abbot goes to Sister Scathach’s room, he finds a bloody robe and an even bloodier dagger, and the room is locked from the inside. So simple, indeed – and yet something doesn’t feel right. For a start, assuming the voices are not from the Otherworld, how could Sister Scathach have known about the girl Sioda had seduced some years ago? And what would be her motive for killing him? It’s up to Sister Fidelma to find the truth…

The Book of Durrow, dating to approximately the time of Fidlema's visit
The Book of Durrow, dating to approximately the time of Fidelma’s visit

Sister Fidelma may be a nun, but she’s not about to be taken in by the whole hearing voices thing…

“I believe in the Otherworld and our transition from this one to that but… I think that those who repose in the Otherworld have more to do than to try to return to this one to murder people. I have investigated several similar matters…there is always a human agency at work.”

However, one can’t help but wonder if, just occasionally, Sister Fidelma also hears voices from the Otherworld – in this case, the bit of the Otherworld that is situated in 221b Baker Street…

“My theory is that when you subtract the impossible, you will find your answers in the possible.”

When Sister Fidelma visits Sister Scathach in her cell and hears her own story of the mysterious voices, she is even more convinced that this is a very human murder, and sets out to find the culprit and the motive…

Celtic cross from Durrow Abbey
Celtic cross from Durrow Abbey

* * * * *

Given the short length of this story, it’s interesting, though not really a solvable mystery for the reader. Basically each interview that Fidelma holds leads her one step further towards the solution until she reaches the culprit. However, it’s well written and the historical setting intrigued me a lot. Given Tremayne’s credentials as a historian, one assumes his depiction is reasonably accurate, and this early Christian society seems very different to the later monasteries and abbeys we might be more used to in historical fiction. For example, there is no rule to prevent marriage between the male and female members of the abbey, so they are not quite as we imagine nuns and monks, which throws open the whole question of possible motives.

There isn’t really enough room here to develop too much sense of place or characterisation, but it gives enough of a flavour of Fidelma and her way of life to make me interested enough to try out one of the full length novels. A decent introduction to what looks like it might be an enjoyable, fairly cosy series.

begorrathon 2016

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating:

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

47 thoughts on “Tuesday ’Tec! The Spiteful Shadow by Peter Tremayne

  1. Eeek! EEEEeeekkk! I was suspicious at the tag line but then my worst fears were confirmed… this is about NUNS! Due to my innate fear of the beastly creatures I shall NOT be reading this story, or any like it, unless they are all dispatched with by the end of the first chapter. *shudders* Now I need wine.


  2. I’m glad you enjoyed this story, FictionFan. Tremayne is, by all accounts, a very knowledgeable historian, so yes, I agree the stories have a solid sense of authenticity. And I like Sister Fidelma’s character. It’s well-developed without, in my opinion anyway, being too anachronistic. If you do try the series, I’ll be keen to know what you think of it.


    • He certainly seems to be considered an authority. I always enjoy when historians write historical fiction – you find out quite a lot about a given time in passing. Yes, Fidelma wasn’t terribly well-developed in this one – too short – but I got the feeling she would be an enjoyable character in the full-length books. Good to hear you think they’re worth investigating further…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Yes, it seems only fair! This story made me think the books would be quite similar to the Brother Cadfael ones in tone. I like that style – not totally cosy, but not overly gritty either…


  3. I actually wanted to be a nun when I was about 10-11. Although I wasn’t Catholic. And I would definitely have been a crime-solving one… May have to check this series out!


  4. I never wanted to be a nun, but neither do I have any aversion to nuns. If I HAD to be a nun (no one is likely to want to insist on this) I think being called Sister Scathach would be a jolly name. Remarkably silly. As long as the silliness of the name isn’t somehow linked with the hearing of voices, Unless they were saying remarkably pleasant things……Sister Scathach, I think its time you went and got some of your favourite chocolates. Sister Scathach, I think you deserve a nice lie in, rather than getting up for matins. Sister Scathach, its a lovely sunny afternoon, why don’t you put on your swimming costume, take a picnic hamper and go down to the beach.

    Hmm. I think I’m right, no one is likely to insist I become a nun. Not to mention all the other stuff which makes me unnunnyno


    • I always quite fancied the solitude and the room to myself (sisters, you know). But when I learned about the getting up a hundred times a night to pray, I kinda went off the idea. Plus the frocks aren’t very flattering…

      Now you mention it, it is a little annoying that the voices always seem to be about doom and gloom! I think your kind of voices would be much more fun. Actually, I think I do have a voice in my head that makes me eat chocolate… it can’t be my own fault…


  5. Sounds good if a little less than useful in keeping the grey cells functioning but I love your review especially when you point out that the sister is ‘not about to be taken in by the whole hearing voices thing…’ and then link to Baker Street – great review as always and this looks like (another) author to look out for!!


    • Yes, the detection technique didn’t allow for much armchair mystery-solving but I suspect that was just because the story was so short. Haha! I couldn’t help but imagine her in a deerstalker when she said that! But I did like the style and the setting – must try one of the novels some time…


  6. I’m a big fan of Sister Fidelma and I know a little about the period, so I always keep an eye out for a new one. I know this story though, but I missed the Holmes quote!


  7. I’ve never read any of this series, but it sounds pretty good to me. I just might have to check out at least one, you know. The Irish setting and the mystery genre sound right up my alley. Poor PorterGirl, she’s terrified of nuns. Must be all that black, swirling garb!


    • Yes, they sound good, don’t they? They remind me of the Brother Cadfael books which I used to really enjoy. Haha! Poor PorterGirl indeed! Maybe if I read and review some of these books I’ll have to pretend Fidelma is actually a nurse or something… 😉


  8. Celts are pretty cool. One of the best teams to be in Civilizations III–if you ever find yourself playing. Just thought I should mention that.

    A detective nun is an interest. I always got the impression nuns would make awful detectives, you know.


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