Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Haunted Abbot by Peter Tremayne

I love a good haunted house story and although The Haunted Abbot didn’t linger much on spooky happenings at Aldred’s Abbey, it’s still a great mystery. Tremayne not only brings out the amazing culture of ancient Ireland but that of the British Isles including the Britons and Saxons as well.

Sister Fidelma’s companion in Tremayne’s incredible series, Brother Eadulf of Seaxmund’s Ham is a Saxon religieuse, which seems to be a contradiction in terms given their violent culture. As in the previous novel Smoke in the Wind, Eadulf is confronted repeatedly with the facts that his people are warriors and many of them adhere to their pagan ways. Although his has converted to Christianity, he is fiercely defensive of the Saxons and easily insulted with confronted by more enlightened peoples such as Fidelma’s Irish culture.

Eadulf and Fidelma travel through the Saxon wilderness toward Eadulf’s birthplace. He received an urgent message from a childhood friend, Brother Botolf to come to Aldred’s Abbey on a specific date and time. They manage to reach the abbey through a fierce blizzard just before the appointed hour, only to find Botolf has been murdered just hours before. While the bitterly cold weather takes a toll on Fidelma, Eadulf sets out to solve the mystery of his friend’s death. From the very start, he meets solid resistance from Abbot Cild, the very un-Christianlike head of Aldred’s Abbey. The cold, strict abbot has closed the community to all women and threatens to send Eadulf and Fidelma back into the bitter weather despite Fidelma’s illness.

There is also the ghost of a young woman, bearing a striking resemblance to the abbots’ deceased wife haunting the corridors of the abbey.

Despite the lack of evidence, Abbot Cild is convinced a local outlaw is responsible for the murder of Brother Botolf. He is equally adamant that Fidelma is a witch and has conjured the image of his late wife. Eadulf and Fidelma are warned from the very beginning that there is much evil in the abbey. They find not only evil but a sinister plot to deliver the Saxons into the hands of their long-time enemies, the Mercians.

To me, there is more than a passing resemblance of the plot in The Haunted Abbot to Smoke in the Wind, in which an enemy of the country infiltrated an abbey to use the brethren as pawns to draw the King’s troops into a futile battle, leaving the throne unprotected from its enemy neighbor. In The Haunted Abbot, an enemy of the country infiltrates Aldred’s Abbey to use it as a base of operations for nearly the same goal.

However, this novel lacks the brutality of the previous one and Tremayne focuses more on intrigue and subterfuge instead of violence. Also in this story, Fidelma and Eadulf advance their relationship as she agrees to become his ‘beloved woman’, which means she can enjoy all the benefits of marriage, although Eadulf has much more to gain than her. Besides this step to the next level, there doesn’t seem to be as much love and between them as simple companionship. Nothing has changed since the first novel, except that Eadulf doesn’t take Fidelma’s outbursts personally anymore.

Still, I’d like to see something more of romance, if something of the sort existed in ancient Ireland.

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