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Book Review: Master of Souls by Peter Tremayne

Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pub. Date: November 2006
Series: Sister Fidelma Series
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

The master of souls, a person who cares so little for his own life that he swallows up others lives, creating devastation in his wake. This concept is what drives the recent American publication of Peter Tremayne�s Master of Souls. Tremayne, the fiction pseudonym for Peter Berresford Ellis, noted author and Celtic scholar, has once again entered the world of 7th century Ireland and taken up the character of Sister Fidelma, sister to the king of Muman and noted lawyer.

Master of Souls picks up the story shortly after the events related in The Leper�s Bell. Fidelma and Eadulf are once again called upon to solve a mysterious murder, although this time, they must enter the lands of Muman�s rebellious tribe of the Ui Fidgente. In these politically dangerous climes Fidelma must solve the murder of an abbess, a noted scholar, and a traitor.

Tremayne once again has written a book that anyone who likes a good mystery just cannot put down. The action is continuous, the solution difficult, and the climax full of excitement. Ireland of the 600s A.D. was a wild place, but yet, its laws and government had kept it in relative peace for all that was going on the world-at large. The pocket of law and order found in this tiny far off island is rare, especially for its times.

Tremayne�s repute in his other guise as Ellis, is evident in the rich texture of the description, and his scholarly studies give a depth of meaning to each and every event. Although fiction, the reader might as well be reading a history, as the reader cannot help but learn much about Fidelma�s world. Although Tremayne has dispensed with the historical note in each book, this does not detract from the learning a reader can glean, if only by accident.

I do find unfortunate that the character of Eadulf, in Master of Souls, has become less a character in his own right, and more of a shadow of Fidelma. Where once Eadulf contributed his own thoughts to the matter, and had a more three-dimensional aspect, he now seems only to be a questioner and sort of conscience for Fidelma, without true thoughts of his own. This is a loss to the series I think, and I hope that Tremayne brings back the strong character of Eadulf, allowing him more opinions and more action all his own as in The Leper�s Bell. Let the intelligence that caused him to be chosen for Whitby shine through again.

The work is good, although not especially creative in its plot. But then, I don�t really require much more than that in such books. I did not know the killer before the end, which I think is why I enjoy the series so much. I usually find it rather easy to discover the murderer before time, and so value those works that make it hard, while still being fair in giving the reader all the facts and clues.

You do not have to have any knowledge of the world where the books are set, as Tremayne excellently informs his reader as he goes. If you fear to tackle these books for this reason, know that your fears are unfounded. A joyous romp through mystery and intrigue, Master of Souls is an excellent contribution to the Sister Fidelma series.

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