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Absolution by Murder

(Sister Fidelma #1)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  4,742 ratings  ·  388 reviews
ABSOLUTION BY MURDER is the brilliant and evocative first novel in Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma series, bringing 7th-century Ireland vividly to life.

As the leading churchmen and women gather at the Synod of Whitby in 664AD to debate the rival merits of the Celtic and Roman Churches, tempers begin to fray. Conspirators plot an assassination, while mysterious, violent dea
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 1st 1997 by Berkley Books (first published 1994)
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Joanne Hall Better. Cos it's English. okay, Irish :)
All joking aside, it's a light easy read, with a couple of good twists.…more
Better. Cos it's English. okay, Irish :)
All joking aside, it's a light easy read, with a couple of good twists.(less)

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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  4,742 ratings  ·  388 reviews

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Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
”No wild beasts are so cruel as the Christians in their dealings with each other.” –Ammianus Marcellinus, c. AD 330 - 95

The mid 7th century was a time of many conflicts, both religious and political. Although Europe was becoming more universally Christian, there were conflicts between Rome and other factions. In this novel, the leaders of the Celtic Church of Ireland and the leaders of the Church of Rome meet in the land of the Saxons for a synod to clear up some points of contention.

On the open
Matthew Hunter
Apr 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery-thriller
What to label Absolution by Murder? Celtic propaganda? A hit piece on ancient Angle, Saxon and Roman cultures? A theological and philosophical debate? A sexless romance novel? A murder mystery? Actually, it's a bit of everything rolled into a 272-page book. There's much to love and loathe in this first installment of the Sister Fidelma series of historical mysteries.

I took away plenty from the book. First and foremost, I learned that Tremayne, as a scholar of all things Irish, loves ancient Iris
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it
The author wants us readers to know everything about the 7th century. He leaves no name unmentioned which is very distracting in the beginning. In the second half of the book there's more room for the story, which I enjoyed.
Apr 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mysteries
hmmm...looked interesting at the library; and since I do love Cadfael (and miss Ellis Peters), I was willing to give it a shot. I'm glad a few other readers let me know that the writing style has its hiccups...but I have to admit, finding it a really hard slog. The main character is interesting but the author had decided we need to know everything he knows, instead of dropping in just enough historical detail for background and to let me (the reader) explore it too. I keep going (not sure why-ho ...more
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is the first a eighteen books in this series. They are historical mysteries set in Ireland in the mid-seventh century AD. Sister Fidelma is the protagonist. She is a religieuse and a qualified dalaigh - in other words a lawyer in that system of law. Tremayne is an excellant writer and an Irish historian, one of the best. As well as thoroughly enjoying the stories I am almost in awe of the Irish system of law in that historical period. I have found myself more than once wishing that that sys ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
I haven't read too many historical detective stories, especially those set in such old times. But I must admit that it was a very nice experience.

I admit that I know nearly nothing about this period of British Isles history and the Christian church. Therefore, it is difficult for me to say to what extent the events of the book took place in history and to what extent they correspond to reality. But maybe that's why this story was even more interesting to me. I have some general knowledge about t
After the death of the incomparable Ellis Peters and of course with her death, also the end of her Brother Cadfael series of Mediaeval mysteries (which is truly my absolutely favourite historical mystery series of all time), I have since then been on a constant quest to find an adequate and worthwhile replacement. And while I do have a few series that come close even if they are still not quite on par with Ellis Peters' brilliance (namely Paul Doherty's Hugh Corbett, Susanna Gregory's Matthew Ba ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
Bored. The book is repetitive, cliched and full of historical infodumps. I didn't make it through the first half. Too bad; I love mysteries and historicals, and especially love historical mysteries (Brother Cadfael is my comfort reading).
I got increasingly irritated with the characterization of the women-- beautiful genius, or thickset so must be a lesbian ...
It was ok. I am willing to give Tremayne the benefit of the doubt and just assume he hadn't yet quite figured out his fiction voice yet, since this WAS the first fiction book he'd written. His history books are better, and he is clearly more comfortable with that genre since he was simply unable to refrain from adding in somewhat irrelevant historical facts to this book. It wasn't terrible, just not very good.

I think he also needs a better editor. I found numerous grammatical errors, and a few
Great setting, and a time and place I knew next to nothing about. It was fun to hear the echoes of How the Irish Saved Civilization. And it's a fairly competent mystery; although the minor characters are cutouts, and like others I suspected the perp all along, I didn't really put it together until the denouement.

But I agree with other two- and three-star reviewers. The stylistic problems in Tremayne's prose are distracting, given the high quality of others in the genre. For example: he loses hi
Jan 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
That "Peter Tremayne" (pseudonym of an unnamed medieval scholar) can't write his way out of a cloister. I got halfway through before giving it up as a waste of reading time. Wooden prose that could have used an editor. Too many references to Sister's green eyes (or blue?), as well as to the Brother's "deep baritone voice". As opposed to a thin, reedy baritone voice? The murder mystery is almost incidental to academic discussions of Roman vs. Irish Catholicism in the 7th Century. One cover blurb ...more
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought it was about time I tried this series as it's been on my to be read for over a year.
I am a big fan of medieval mysteries and this is well on it's way to being a favorite just from the first book.

When the Celtic and Roman Church followers gather in Whitby to try and iron out their differences, the tension is palatable. When Abbess Etain is found murdered before she can speak for the Celtic church the tensions rise to an almost unbearable level and King Oswy turns to Irish lawyer Sister
The first 50 pages were extremely challenging. I picked up this detective novel featuring a female detective (really, a nun-lawyer), expecting escapist literature. Tremayne makes some demands on the reader by setting this mystery in 7th C. Northumbria during a meeting between Roman-influence Catholics and Irish-influenced Catholics of Britannia.

An historian by training, Tremayne gives a lot of background about people from various backgrounds (Irish, Saxon, Franks, Picts, Romans) and various rel
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first of, hopefully, many Sister Fidelma books! What a revelation. Not only is the mystery well-written, (although I had my suspicions all along!), I learned even more about the Christian church in ancient Ireland and the politics and life in Britain as well. I found the fact of the "Dark" Ages was actually the Age of Enlightenment in Ireland and the lingering influence of the Roman Empire through the Church to be more compelling and interesting than the murder mystery itself. It certainly ga ...more
It got three stars because it is the first in a series, it's not terrible, and I'm sure Mr Tremayne (a pseudonymous historian) improves his fiction writing. In the meantime he forgets the point of his story - it's a whodunnit (with a bit of innocent romance thrown in) not a lesson in history with heavy emphasis on why Celtic Catholicism was better than the Roman variety and how childish both sides were in arguing the merits or otherwise. Hopefully this will reverse the usual trend and the second ...more
The writing style just killed this dead and I didn't finish. If you use a foreign language word, you really don't need to define it twice on two pages. YOU REALLY DON'T.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
Historical mysteries are a tricky balancing act. On one hand, the author should paint a realistic portrait of the period and needs to include the necessary details to describe the setting in which the mystery takes place. On the other hand, the author should also write a compelling and interesting mystery. Often, historical mysteries fall into either the category of a history book with a run-of-the-mill mystery or the category of an interesting mystery with insufficient or inaccurate historical ...more
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
A good mystery set in 7th century Northumbria (during the synod of Whitby), but it comes with an info dumping warning. This book is the first in a series so I understand the author's need to set the scene and to present his characters but still the amount of background information offered to the reader was excessive and non essential to the mystery itself.
I felt that the attitudes and actions of the characters were too modern for the times (view spoiler)
Jul 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
The writing is uniformly dreadful. Medieval characters ask suspects to "contact" them. One of the suspects is a gay stereotype of jaw-dropping offensiveness, sort of like a Stepin' Fetchit character wandering around in Roots. You can spot the murderer within the first 30 pages, so it is basically thud-thud-thud along until the Big Reveal. And while Absolution by Murder is set at the Synod of Whitby, early medieval scholars --- to say nothing of the Venerable Bede --- will be surprised at a coupl ...more
Dec 10, 2011 rated it liked it
I enjoy a good cozy mystery, and found this one to be interesting as it addressed the Council of Whidby, which I've not read a lot about and it captures my interest.

Like others have said, the reveal was pretty obvious throughout, and the characters weren't fabulously well drawn, but I enjoyed the storyline and will look for the next one in this series.
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I want to give this book 4 1/2 stars. I would give it 5stars except the names of the characters were difficult to follow. The author did a good job of reminding the reader who the characters were but I was listening to the book and unless one pays very close attention it is easy to loose track. I really enjoyed the story and did not have a clue as to who committed the murders. Very well done.
Laura Jean
Quite an enjoyable book set in seventh century Britain. I figured out the mystery fairly early but I enjoyed learning about sister Fidelma's world
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, library-book
This is actually a series that's been around for a while; first volume published in 1994. Not sure how I missed it earlier.

It's set in the 7th century and features a sister of the house of Brigit from Ireland. She's also essentially a qualified lawyer and investigator. Ireland in the 7th century, it turns out, was quite enlightened as to what roles women could play in society.

The story takes place at the Synod of Whitby -- an actual thing which the King of Northumbria convened to decide whether
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf, mystery
It seems like the last 6 mos have been a lot of new authors & first in series. I enjoyed this traditional murder mystery, although in the beginning the names of people & places of ancient Ireland, the Saxons, Picts & Britons tended to bog me down. I was fascinated by the historical detail of the 7th C and the backdrop of the story. A synod of religious and "royal" leaders have come together to an Abby to debate and decide on whether to follow the doctrine, customs ( who knew there was such a deb ...more
James Swenson
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Recognizably a first novel. The exposition lumbers. The characters don't develop; their appearance and their thoughts are just described in full at their first appearance. Any woman meant to be sympathetic is guaranteed to be stunningly beautiful. The scenes, some of them enjoyable, roll past one by one, and eventually we reach the shameful conclusion.

The charge that a book is poorly written is vague enough to be meaningless, so let's close by categorizing a few passages.

Disagreeable verbs, not
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Peter Berresford Ellis is a writer of academic history. Peter MacAlan is a writer of action-adventure novels. Peter Tremayne is the author of a series of murder mysteries set in 7th century Britain: the Sister Fidelma series. These three Peters are all the same author. My friends Dr Lindsay Haney (PhD Irish Literature) and Bruce McMenomy (Phd Philology) would doubtless point out defects in the imaginative world created by these novels. This is an instance where my own ignorance allows me to simp ...more
Kate McCabe
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
This was interesting. I don't know much about the early middle ages in Britain, but there were lots of things that I found...odd. It was an adequate mystery with an adequate solution, so it does what it says it will on the tin.
Kathleen Schilling
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting start to a series. He writes a bit too many details, but since this was the first book, I am willing to give book 2 a chance.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it liked it
A little clunky, "whodunnit" was kind of obvious, but there were some good side plots. Pretty solid historically!
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good fun - especially as currently reading about the celtic church.
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Cozy Mystery Corner : Sister Fidelma (Absolution by Murder) - Peter Tremayne 6 36 Apr 30, 2015 05:24PM  

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Peter Berresford Ellis (born 10 March 1943) is a historian, literary biographer, and novelist who has published over 90 books to date either under his own name or his pseudonyms Peter Tremayne and Peter MacAlan. He has also published 95 short stories. His non-fiction books, articles and academic papers have made him acknowledged as an authority on Celtic history and culture. As Peter Tremayne, he ...more

Other books in the series

Sister Fidelma (1 - 10 of 31 books)
  • Shroud for the Archbishop (Sister Fidelma, #2)
  • Suffer Little Children (Sister Fidelma, #3)
  • The Subtle Serpent (Sister Fidelma, #4)
  • The Spider's Web (Sister Fidelma, #5)
  • Valley of the Shadow (Sister Fidelma, #6)
  • The Monk Who Vanished (Sister Fidelma, #7)
  • Act of Mercy (Sister Fidelma, #8)
  • Hemlock at Vespers (Sister Fidelma, #9)
  • Our Lady Of Darkness (Sister Fidelma, #10)
  • Smoke in the Wind (Sister Fidelma, #11)

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“The reason was not hard to discern. The head of the body was also shaven with the tonsure of Columba. What remained of his clothing proclaimed it to have once consisted of the habit of a religieux, though there was no sign of the crucifix, leather belt and satchel that a peregrinus pro Christo would have carried. The leading traveller had drawn near on his mule and gazed up with a terrified expression on his white features. Another of the party, one of the two women, urged her mount nearer and gazed up at the corpse with a steady eye. She rode a horse, a fact that signified that she was no ordinary religieuse but a woman of rank. There was no fear on her pale features, just a slight expression of repulsion and curiosity. She was a young woman, tall but well proportioned, a fact scarcely concealed by her sombre dress. Rebellious strands of red hair streaked from beneath her headdress. Her pale-skinned features were attractive and her eyes were bright and it was difficult to discern whether they were blue or green, so changeable with emotion were they. ‘Come away, Sister Fidelma,’ muttered her male companion in agitation. ‘This is not a sight for your eyes.” 1 likes
“The young woman continued to frown, displaying her irritation. ‘You would continue on and leave one of our brethren in this manner? Unblessed and unburied?’ Her voice was sharp and angry.” 1 likes
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