The Haunted Abbot is a medieval mystery featuring Sister Fidelma, of Cashel, Ireland. This particular novel in the Sister Fidelma series is set in seventh century England. Sister Fidelma and Brother Eadulf visit Aldred's Abbey in East Anglia at the request of Brother Eadulf's childhood friend, Botulf.
However, by the time they arrive, late in the night in the midst of a freezing snow storm, Sister Fidelma is succumbing to fever and chills. Eadulf must counter two shocks: his friend was murdered that very morning and Abbot Cild initially refuses to admit Sister Fidelma to the abbey. The Abbey is closed to women, and Cild relents only because of Eadulf's connections and says they must move on in the morning.
As Eadulf visits the chapel to see his friend's body, he sees a young, richly dressed woman. Exhausted, worried, and angry, Eadulf finds himself faced with many unanswered questions. How can Abbot Cild refuse aid to Fidelma because she is a woman, when another woman roams the abbey? Is the woman the ghost of Cild's dead wife? Who murdered Eadulf's friend and why?
Much of the book is a look at the culture of the times: religious conflicts, changing attitudes of the Church, the influence of Pagan beliefs, power struggles between East Anglia and Mercia, inequitable treatment of men and women, legal differences between Ireland and England, and cultural conflicts. As a result, the book is an education in the time period--so much so, that some may find the reading slow...
but I actually found the historical information more engaging than the mystery, which was more complicated than complex. I will look for more in this series, especially those set in Ireland, Sister Fidelma's home.
Many aspects of the novel reminded me of the nonfiction How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, a history that I thoroughly enjoyed as it was both interesting and informative.
Peter Tremayne is the pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis, historian and novelist, considered an authority on Celtic history and culture. More information (biographical info and an interview) on Tremayne/Ellis here.
Fiction. Historical Mystery. 2002. 298 pages.