Sister Fidelma mysteries
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The Sister Fidelma mysteries are a series of historical mystery novels and short stories by Peter Tremayne (pseudonym of Peter Berresford Ellis) about a fictional detective who is the eponymous heroine of a series. Fidelma is both a dalaigh (an advocate in the courts of the Five Kingdoms of Éireann), and Celtic nun (Ellis uses the French term "réligieuse").
Fidelma usually solves crimes in company with her partner (and eventually husband) Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk (Ellis uses the French term "réligieux"). Though Eadulf has often been compared to Sherlock Holmes's friend Dr. Watson, he is a way more an equal partner to Fidelma, and usually proves essential to solving the mystery at hand (in fact, in the story of The Leper's Bell he solves the main problem himself). A true companion, he has saved Fidelma's life more than once.
The Sister Fidelma stories are set in the middle of the 7th century, mainly in Ireland. They are historical whodunits in the literary tradition of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, and the Judge Dee by Robert van Gulik (inspired by Gong'an fiction and by the official of the Chinese Tang Dynasty Di Renjie). Peter Tremayne's novels are extremely complex and usually feature the interaction of several subplots involving political intrigue, personal relationships, religious conflict, or characters' desires for personal or monetary gain.
Fidelma was born into the royal family of Munster in the late 630s. Her father, King Failbe Fland, died c. 637/9, during Fidelma's infancy. Fidelma was raised as an Eoghanachta princess. She studied civil and criminal law, especially the brehon laws, under the supervision of Brehon Morann of Tara. During her student years, Fidelma had an unhappy love affair with Cian, a warrior of the High King's bodyguard, who eventually abandoned her to marry the daughter of the High King's steward (who, ironically, later divorced him on the grounds that he was sterile). Her pre-occupation with Cian interfered with her concentration and devotion to her studies and nearly caused her to be expelled from the Brehon Morann's classes. Emerging from the affair battered but unbowed, she applied herself wholeheartedly to her studies and eventually qualified as an anruth, the second highest rank in the Irish legal system. In the novels, she pursues a career as a dalaigh to the Brehon Court of Ireland.
On the advice of her mentor Abbot Laisran of Durrow, Fidelma became a nun (referred to throughout the series as a "religieuse"), joining St. Brigid's mixed abbey at Kildare. She later left this community some time after her return from Rome for reasons outlined in the story "Hemlock at Vespers" and now refers to herself as "Fidelma of Cashel" rather than "Sister Fidelma". Strong-minded and independent, Fidelma often chafes at the structure of the religious life; she seems to have become a nun more as a career move (monasteries were the intellectual centres of seventh-century Ireland) than as an expression of Christian devotion. In the novel A Prayer for the Damned, Fidelma considers renouncing her religious vows but decides against it. Fidelma's anam chara or "soul friend" (the Irish equivalent of a confessor and spiritual guide) had been her friend Liadin, as Fidelma had been to her, but Liadin later betrayed and broke her oath to Fidelma (see the short story "At the Tent of Holofernes" in Hemlock at Vespers). Since that time Fidelma had no real anam chara, but in The Leper's Bell she realized that she had unknowingly come to regard Eadulf as her anam chara and finally recognized him as such. Even so, she continued to seek advice from clerical mentors, particularly Abbot Laisran and Brother Conchobar of Cashel.
In 664, Fidelma accompanied the Irish delegation to the Synod of Whitby, where she met Brother Eadulf (quite literally running into him); later, they were asked to work together to investigate the murder of Abbess Etain of Kildare, a leading member of the Church of Columba faction (see Absolution by Murder). Following a little initial hostility on Fidelma's part towards Eadulf, the murderer was uncovered, and after the Synod concluded Fidelma and Eadulf journeyed together to Rome, where they were asked to investigate the murder of Archbishop-designate Wighard (see Shroud for the Archbishop). After the case was successfully resolved, Fidelma returned to Cashel (on the way being forced to stop at the seaport of Genua (Genoa), then traveling to the Abbey of Bobium (Bobbio Abbey) to visit her old teacher Brother Ruadán and becoming involved in the events of Behold a Pale Horse). In 665, Fidelma's cousin King Cathal Cú-cen-máthair died and Fidelma's older brother Colgu succeeded to the throne of Muman (Munster) (the historical King Colgu ruled from A.D. 665-678), and in the wake of her brother's succession Fidelma became involved in solving the murder of famed religious scholar the Venerable Dacan (see Suffer Little Children).
In 666 when Fidelma was called upon to investigate the finding of a headless body in an abbey well, she also became involved with the mystery of a deserted Gaulish ship on which (she learned) Eadulf had been traveling to Cashel as an emissary of Theodore of Tarsus, the new Archbishiop of Canterbury, and from which he and the entire crew had been taken captive (see The Subtle Serpent). Returning to Cashel together after rescuing Eadulf, revealing the murderer and uncovering a plot against Munster, Fidelma and Eadulf soon became nearly inseparable (see The Spider's Web, Valley of the Shadow [at which time Fidelma was made a member of the Nasc Naidh, an elite corps of bodyguards to the kings of Munster, by King Colgu and became entitled to wear the golden torc of that order] and The Monk Who Vanished). After nearly a year together, they again separated, with Eadulf (reluctantly) intending to return to Canterbury and Fidelma intending to go on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. James in Iberia.
Events didn't go quite as planned. Fidelma had only just arrived in Iberia after a very eventful voyage (see Act of Mercy) when she received a message from her brother Colgu that Eadulf had been charged with murder. Hurrying back to Ireland, she reunited with Eadulf at the Abbey of Fearna, proved his innocence and uncovered the true killer as well as the reasons behind the crime (see Our Lady of Darkness). Eadulf then convinced Fidelma to accompany him to Canterbury and then, after their business with Archbishop Theodore had been accomplished, to visit his former home of Seaxmund's Ham (see Smoke in the Wind, the short story "The Lost Eagle" in Whispers of the Dead and The Haunted Abbot). At some point during their travels, they revealed their true feelings for and to one another, began a physical relationship (resulting in Fidelma's pregnancy) and entered into a temporary marriage of a year and a day (with Fidelma as Eadulf's ben charrthach or "loved woman" and Eadulf as Fidelma's fer comtha; this marriage is first mentioned in The Haunted Abbot which takes place in late December, 666). After their return to Cashel in 667, their son Alchu ("Gentle Hound") was born sometime between June and July of that year.
The last three months of 667 turned rocky; Fidelma and Eadulf's relationship was seriously troubled by Fidelma's suffering from (but refusing to admit that she suffered from) what is now called postpartum depression. While Fidelma and Eadulf were away solving a series of serial killings (see Badger's Moon), Alchu's nurse was found murdered outside the castle of Cashel and little Alchu was missing, believed to have been kidnapped. Despite objections that they were too emotionally involved to investigate properly, Eadulf was able to track down and recover Alchu and Fidelma uncovered the reason why Alchu's nurse had been murdered (see The Leper's Bell). In February 668, they celebrated a permanent marriage, despite the interruption caused by their investigation into the murder of Abbot Ultan of Cill Ria (Kilrea) (see A Prayer for the Damned). After the events of Dancing with Demons in the winter of 669-670, Eadulf was made a member of the Nasc Naidh.
Fidelma became increasingly involved in Irish court politics and diplomacy, including thwarting several plots against the kingdom of Munster, solving the murder of the High King Sechnassach (see Dancing with Demons) and, although originally requested to act as advisor to the Irish delegation to the Council of Autun summoned by Bishop Leodegar in 670, uncovering the murderer of the Abbot Dabhoc of Tulach Oc at that council (see The Council of the Cursed). She and Eadulf were returning to Muman by sea in the company of Fidelma's cousin Bressel when their ship was attacked off the coast of Armorica and Bressel was brutally murdered, along with some of the ship's crew. After uncovering both the person responsible and a plot to assassinate the Breton king (see The Dove of Death), Fidelma decided to renounce her religious vows and become full-time legal advisor to her brother, a decision she believed Eadulf would support. Her belief proved wrong and led to a bitter quarrel between them, resulting in a physical separation, Fidelma remaining in Cashel and Eadulf going to the abbey of Ruan. During the weeks of the separation and due to Muman's Chief Brehon Baithen's intentions of retiring because of a serious (ultimately fatal) illness, Fidelma became determined to succeed Baithen as Chief Brehon and Colgu agreed to have her name submitted among the other candidates (although he informed her that he must remain neutral and that the final decision must lie with the Council of Brehons).
The murder of Brother Donnchad at the abbey of Lios Mor led Colgu and Abbot Segdae to send Fidelma to investigate but on the condition that Eadulf accompany and assist her (see The Chalice of Blood). Although they were able to work together as before, the breach was evident and after the investigation was successfully concluded, Fidelma followed through with her decision/ambition and left the religious. Unfortunately, although her name was submitted, Brehon Aedo was elected as Muman's Chief Brehon, a decision which Fidelma took very hard (although publicly she supported the decision), and Eadulf (who had finally accepted her decision to leave the religious, although he himself remained a Brother) was extremely relieved when she agreed to undertake the investigation of an unknown found body, which led towards uncovering another plot against Muman and an unexpected traitor within Fidelma's own family (see The Seventh Trumpet). However, Fidelma eventually concluded that the role and duties of Chief Brehon of Muman were not for her and decided to remain a dalaigh, although she continued to be Colgu's legal advisor.
In November 670, Colgu was nearly assassinated by a mysterious religieux but survived, although badly wounded; the assassin also killed Chief Brehon Aedo, who had tried to protect Colgu. The would-be assassin was killed, but the initial investigation into the motive for the attack (originally handled by Deputy Chief Brehon Aillin) seemed to point towards the Uí Fidgente, and so, with the approval of Colgu's tanaiste (heir apparent) Finguine, Fidelma and Eadulf traveled into enemy territory to continue their investigation and uncovered not only the reason for the attack on Colgu but also a plot against the Uí Fidgente from within their own ruling family (see Atonement of Blood).
In February 671, Colgu had recovered from his wound and Fidelma and Eadulf had been living somewhat peacefully in Cashel following the events of Atonement of Blood when an Anglo-Saxon deputation led by the Venerable Verax, brother of Pope Vitalian, and the arrogant Bishop Arwald of Magonsaete arrived at Cashel to debate the possible establishment by Rome of an Archbishopric in Ireland and which primacy in the Five Kingdoms might be considered as its seat. Matters took a serious turn even before the debate began by the murder of Brother Cerdic, the delegation's emissary, before the delegation's arrival and became even more complicated by the discovery on the banks of the River Siur of three murdered men, one of whom was identified as The Venerable Vitricius of Palestrina, and that the only survivor was Eadulf's younger brother Egric. The debate quickly turned hostile; shortly afterwards, an attempt was made on Fidelma and Eadulf's lives and more murders were committed, including those of Rudgal (the man suspected of leading the attack on The Venerable Vitricius), of Sister Dianaihm (the bann-mhoar or female steward of Abbess Lioch of Cill Naile, who had been asked to attend the debate) and of Egric. With Muman's honor at stake Fidelma and Eadulf had to somehow unravel the truth and the reasons for so many killings (see The Devil's Seal).
In May 671, the Great Fair of Bealtain in Cashel took a deadly turn with a case of arson and two poisonings. Their investigations took Fidelma and Eadulf to Osraige and to the Abbey of Cainnech, where they strove to uncover the secrets of both the Golden Stone and the mysterious Fellowship of the Raven (see The Second Death).
In June 671, Fidelma and Eadulf were horrified to learn from Colgu that Abbot Segdae had been murdered while at the fortress of Prince Donennach of the Ui Fidgente. In the absence of Muman's Chief Brehon, Colgu immediately dispatched Fidelma and Eadulf; upon their arrival, they learned to their shock that their companion Gorman, who had been found at the scene of the crime, was being held as the chief suspect and that the Ui Fidgente religious, led by the vicious and vindictive Abbot Nannid of Mungairit, were demanding Gorman's death as punishment according to the Penitentials. With both Prince Donennach and the Ui Fidgente Chief Brehon Faolchair's backing, Fidelma and Eadulf immediately began an investigation, mindful of the fact that any misstep on her part could not only result in Gorman's execution but also spark both a civil upheaval within the Ui Fidgente and a war against Cashel (see Penance of the Damned).
In 675, Fidelma received a letter telling of the ultimate fates of Bishop Leodegar and some of those connected with the 670 Council of Autun (see the epilogue of The Council of the Cursed).
Because of the death of her parents at an early age, Fidelma grew up quite independent and self-reliant; at times she refuses to delegate gathering of evidence to anyone, even Eadfulf (although she does admit that Eadulf's "mind was just as sharp and penetrating as her own." - The Council of the Cursed). However, she suffered many betrayals in the past (Cian, Liadin, Abbess Ita of Cill Dara) so that she became extremely cautious with her emotions and it is not easy for her to become close to people; it took quite a long time for her to fully realize her feelings for Eadulf, and her only close female friend/confidente is Della, a former prostitute (it is to Della that she turns to for comfort and counsel when she believes her marriage to Eadulf is in danger of falling apart). She also admits quite freely that one of her worst faults is her temper, and she is constantly amazed that Eadulf shows so much patience with her: "She knew that she could not really contemplate an existence without Eadulf's support. Who else would tolerate her sharp temper, which she accepted was her biggest fault?" (The Chalice of Blood)
However, in spite of her self-confessed shortcomings, she has proven herself to be devoted to family and friends and a caring and loving wife and mother (although she does wish that her duties as a dalaigh didn't cause her to be away from her son so often and for so long).
A Saxon by birth from Seaxmund's Ham (today "Saxmundham") in the Kingdom of East Anglia (Eadulf refers to himself as an "Angle", while almost everybody else refers to him as "Saxon", much to his annoyance), Eadulf was raised as a hereditary gerefa, or reeve, of his people. Eadulf was converted to Christianity by an Irish monk named Fursa sometime before the novels begin and subsequently studied first at Durrow then medicine at the great medical school of Tuaim Brecain in Ireland. He then undertook a pilgrimage to Rome to understand the differences between the ideas of the Church of Rome and those of the Church of Ireland, remaining there studying for two years and returning as a follower of Rome. In the novel The Devil's Seal, it is learned that he has a younger brother Egric, who, although both brothers were converted to Christianity, chose to follow the path of the warrior and that due to lack of news about him Eadulf believed Egric to be dead. It is also learned in the same novel that Eadulf's mother died from ergot poisoning when Eadulf was fifteen and that his father died from the Yellow Plague three years later.
In the novel Absolution by Murder, which is set during the Synod of Whitby, Brother Eadulf was part of the deputation from Canterbury to the Synod, where he met Sister Fidelma for the first time. After the Synod's conclusion, both joined a party to Rome. After the events of Shroud for the Archbishop in Rome, Fidelma returned to Ireland while Eadulf remained in Rome as secretary to the new Archbishop of Canterbury Theodore of Tarsus. Later, he was sent to Cashel as Theodore's emissary and was reunited with Fidelma in The Subtle Serpent. After the events of that novel, he returned to Cashel with Fidelma and in subsequent novels they became almost inseparable companions and collaborators.
Eadulf and Fidelma's intellectual and personal relationship develops throughout the series, despite another separation in which Eadulf (reluctantly and partly at Fidelma's insistence) intended to return to Canterbury. However, he almost never made it back to Britain, as at the abbey of Fearna he was charged with rape and murder and almost hanged (a predicament that it seemed Fidelma would be unable to rescue him from). Eadulf convinced Fidelma to accompany him to Canterbury, and after concluding his business with Archbishop Theodore, he returned to Ireland with Fidelma. In 667, they entered into a trial marriage of a year and a day, during which their son Alchu was born. In February 668, Eadulf and Fidelma celebrated a permanent marriage (see A Prayer for the Damned).
Unfortunately, as time passes, Eadulf's devotion to the world of the Faith began to clash with Fidelma's growing ambition to pursue a secular life devoted to the law. A serious emotional and physical breach was made between them when Fidelma announced her decision to renounce her religious vows and Eadulf sadly realized that he could not change her mind (see The Dove of Death and The Chalice of Blood). The Chalice of Blood concluded with Fidelma telling Eadulf that she had made her decision about her future and now he must come to a decision about his own, which he did ... accepting her decision and supporting her, but still remaining a Brother.
Tremayne uses Brother Eadulf's status as an outsider to the Celtic communities in which many of his and Fidelma's cases take place to provide explanations about legal and cultural matters to his readers. This allows Tremayne to include many details about the history of the Celtic church and society, without overtly appearing to educate.
Being a foreigner, Eadulf's status in Ireland is originally that of cu glas (which translates as "grey dog"), meaning an "exile from over the sea" and a person without legal standing or honor price (for a definition of this term, see "Status" in Early Irish Law); however, his rank as techtaire (emissary or ambassador) between Archbishop Theodore and Fidelma's brother King Colgu gave him a high honor price of eight cumals (a cumal being the value of three cows) under Irish law (see Our Lady of Darkness) and since his marriage to Fidelma (recognized and approved by her family) he is now considered a deorad De (an "exile of God") and has an honor price of half that of Fidelma's but he is not entitled to make legal contracts without her permission (she is also responsible for any debts that he might incur) or have any legal responsibility in the raising of Alchu. Despite these legalities, he is treated as an equal and a friend and accepted as a member of Fidelma's family. After the events of Dancing with Demons in the winter of 669-670, he was made a member of the Nasc Naidh, an elite corps of bodyguards to the kings of Munster, by King Colgu and entitled to wear the golden torc of that order.
Brother Eadulf is a stolid man who provides a much-needed stability to Fidelma during emotionally difficult cases (he knows that her insecurity stems from both her parents dying when she was very young). In many of the novels (with some slight variations), Tremayne uses the same phrases to describe Fidelma and Eadulf's intellectual relationship:
- "She missed their debates. She missed the way she could tease Eadulf over their conflicting opinions and philosophies, the way he would always rise goodnaturedly to the bait. Their arguments would rage but there was no enmity between them. They would learn together as they examined their interpretations and debated their ideas." (Suffer Little Children)
Eadulf's courage and love of family are undeniable (proven many times, including his rescue of their son Alchu in The Leper's Bell and of Fidelma herself in The Seventh Trumpet). His medical knowledge and assistance is often very valuable as well (especially in The Devil's Seal when he must perform an emergency amputation), and Fidelma has often admitted that Eadulf has an uncanny ability to see the obvious that she has overlooked. On one occasion (after a "cram course" in the Law of the Fenechus) he acted as Fidelma's advocate to successfully get her released when she was charged with murder (see Valley of the Shadow), although his use of a bluff to get a witness to admit to being paid for his testimony and thus discredit it shocked her sensibilities as a dalaigh, and he was able to provide a provision of law (much to Fidelma's surprise) that allowed her to provide an argument that led to the uncovering of a murderer (see The Chalice of Blood). In The Seventh Trumpet, he demonstrated his own powers of deduction to such a degree that Fidelma remarked, "Every day, you become more and more a Brehon"; in The Chalice of Blood, she tells him: "As far as I am concerned, without you, your advice, your ability to analyse, I would not have succeeded in many of the investigations we have undertaken ... you will forever be my soul-mate, my anam chara, and if you go my soul will die."
Part of Eadulf's charm is his honest humility, and despite all he has accomplished and the fame and respect he has earned while working with Fidelma he considers himself to be quite an ordinary man (much to the amusement of Brother Conchobar, who in A Prayer for the Damned pointed out to him that Fidelma would never have chosen an ordinary man to share her life with). He is not a person who always feels comfortable in the hustle and bustle of a major castle town like Cashel, and often wishes that he and Fidelma could retire to a mixed religious community in a more secluded area (although that dream had to be given up when Fidelma renounced the religious life). He is very humorous about his own shortcomings (including poor horsemanship and seasickness) and is normally a very tolerant and even-tempered person, but on a few occasions Eadulf has been provoked to the point where he has indeed lost his temper with another person and with Fidelma herself (much to her astonishment; see The Leper's Bell and The Chalice of Blood). Nominally he remains an adherent to the Church of Rome (he still wears a Roman tonsure), but over time, due in part to his debates with Fidelma, in part to his long-term residence and personal experiences in Eireann and in part to his personal interactions with both local and foreign Church dignitaries, his views have become much more moderate to the point where he has realized that he cannot blindly follow the changes in the Faith that come from Rome, such as and including the increased call for religious celibacy and the continual attempt to supplant the Laws of the Fenechus with the Penitentials.
- Colgú mac Faílbe Flaind - King of Muman (Munster), reigned 665-678; Fidelma's older brother. His first appearance in the series is in Suffer Little Children.
- Brother Conchobar - the apothecary at Cashel, also expert in astrology; sometimes acts a mentor to Fidelma. His first appearance in the series is in The Monk Who Disappeared, but he also appears in the short story "The Astrologer who Predicted His Own Murder" in the collection Whispers of the Dead.
- Laisran - Abbot of Durrow; mentor to Fidelma, originally encouraged her to join the religious; appears mostly in the short stories, but also appears in A Prayer for the Damned.
- Dego, Enda and Aidan - warriors of Munster's Nasc Niadh, the King of Muman's Bodyguard; they sometimes accompany Fidelma and Eadulf on their investigations. Their first appearance in the series is in Our Lady of Darkness. In The Devil's Seal, Dego was attacked and wounded in the right arm, and due to massive infection Eadulf was forced to amputate the arm.
- Gorman - a warrior of Munster's Nasc Niadh, the King of Muman's Bodyguard; the son of former prostitute Della; accompanies Fidelma and Eadulf on some of their investigations. His first appearance in the series is in The Leper's Bell; eventually promoted to commander of the Nasc Niadh; married Aibell prior to the events of Penance of the Damned.
- Della - a former be-taide (prostitute), mother of Gorman and Fidelma's closest female friend and confidente; they became acquainted when Fidelma successfully defended Della's sister, a religieuse of Cill Dara (Kildare), against a charge or murder and later represented Della herself when Della was raped. Her first appearance in the series is in The Monk Who Disappeared.
- Segdae - Abbot and Bishop of Imleach, chief prelate in Muman and firm opponent of the Penitentials; first introduced in Valley of the Shadow. Murdered in Penance of the Damned.
- Conri - Warlord of the Uí Fidgenti.
- Donennach mac Oengus - Prince of the Ui Fidgenti; first appeared in The Monk Who Vanished. Signed a peace treaty with Colgu and has since remained on friendly relations with Cashel despite opposition from within his own people.
- Forbassach - Bishop and Brehon of Laigin and a hostile antagonist to Fidelma; first appeared in Suffer Little Children (when he was physically thrown out of the court of Muman for violation of the laws of hospitality); was stripped of his license to practice law as a result of the events of Our Lady of Darkness.
- Fianamail - King of Laigin; succeeded Faelan, who had died of the Yellow Plague; first appeared in Suffer Little Children; hostile to Muman. Described as "a youth with foxy hair and an attitude to match it ... young and ambitious and determined to make a reputation for himself." (Our Lady of Darkness) Has been foiled twice by Fidelma: first, in the matter of the kingdom of Osraige (Suffer Little Children, for which he had to pay high fines to both the High King and King Colgu), then in the displacement in Laigin of the Law of the Fenechus by the Law of the Penitentials (Our Lady of Darkness, for which he was publicly admonished by the High King).
- Noe - Abbot of Fearna in Laigin; resigned as Abbot to become Fianamail's Spiritual Advisor; also hostile to Fidelma. First appeared in Suffer Little Children; related to the murdered Venerable Dacan. Left Fearna to go on a pilgrimage to Rome where he met Fainder, with whom he fell in love and brought back to Fearna to become its new Abbess. Became converted to the Penitentials; after the events of Our Lady of Darkness, left Fearna (and Ireland), possibly to follow Fainder back to Rome.
Historical personages appearing in the series
- Colgú mac Faílbe Flaind
- Finguine mac Cathail
- Fiannamail mac Máele Tuile, King of Laigin
- Sechnassach, High King of Ireland. Murdered in Dancing with Demons
- Deusdedit of Canterbury. As Archbishop, dies of yellow fever in the first book Absolution by Murder
- Wighard, Archbishop-Elect of Canterbury. Murdered in Shroud for the Archbiship
- Oswy of Northumbria
- Hilda of Whitby
- Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury (mentioned mostly, actually appears in the short story "The Lost Eagle")
- Leodegar, Bishop of Autun
In the course of the series, Sister Fidelma journeys to many different parts of Western Europe, including Ireland, Wales, Northumbria, Hispania, Brittany, Francia and Rome. The differences between the societies she encounters and her native country is an ongoing theme throughout the series. Through Fidelma's adventures, Peter Tremayne introduces his readers to his views and interpretations of events and conflicts of 7th century Ireland. Major themes in the Sister Fidelma series include:
Inter-Societal Themes: Differences between Celtic society and other societies of the time
- The system of government, in particular the method of selecting a ruler. (the Celtic and early Anglo-Saxon system of election within elite kin-groups versus later systems of primogeniture.)
- Legal systems, conventions of legal proceedings (including methods of establishing innocence or guilt), and punishments for criminals.
- Political alliances, truces, and disputes between different countries.
- The legality of slavery.
- The role of women. (Relatively unrestricted in Celtic society; much more restricted in Roman and Anglo-Saxon societies.)
Intra-Societal Themes: Issues within Celtic society itself.
- Conflict between local (the five provinces of Ireland) and central (the High King at Tara) political authorities.
- Conflicts between different clans or regions of Ireland.
- Various aspects of Irish society, including language, geography, history, medicine, professions, customs, food, and hygiene.
- The ongoing struggle between Celtic and Roman forms of Christianity for supremacy in the British Isles.
- The growing claims of Ard Macha (Armagh) to hold religious governance over all of the five kingdoms and their sub-kingdoms.
- The meeting of older pagan and newly introduced Christian forms of worship (sometimes this occurs easily in the Fidelma series, other times bitter conflicts result).
- The use of secular or traditional Irish law versus the Penitentials.
- The question of whether clergy should be celibate.
- The value of superstition and astrology.
Novels and collections of short stories
- Absolution By Murder (1994). Relates events occurring in 664
- Shroud for the Archbishop (1995)
- Suffer Little Children (1995)
- The Subtle Serpent (1996)
- The Spider's Web (1997)
- Valley of the Shadow (1998)
- The Monk Who Vanished (1999)
- Act of Mercy (1999)
- Our Lady of Darkness (2000)
- Hemlock At Vespers (collection of short stories) (2000)
- Smoke in the Wind (2001)
- The Haunted Abbot (2002)
- Badger's Moon (2003)
- Whispers of the Dead (collection of short stories) (2004)
- The Leper's Bell (2004)
- Master of Souls (2005)
- A Prayer for the Damned (2006)
- Dancing with Demons (2007)
- Council of the Cursed (2008)
- The Dove of Death (2009)
- The Chalice of Blood (2010)
- Behold A Pale Horse (2011)
- The Seventh Trumpet (2012)
- Atonement Of Blood (2013)
- The Devil's Seal (2014)
- The Second Death (2015)
- Penance of the Damned (2016)
- Night of the Lightbringer (to be released June 2017)
A graphic novel of Absolution for Murder adapted by Antonio Munoz with art by Josep Ferrer and Carlos Vila (ISBN 978-90-8606-043-6) is currently available for sale in an English version from the Arboris website.
- Rielly, Edward J.; Wooten, David Robert (2012-08-16). The Sister Fidelma Mysteries: Essays on the Historical Novels of Peter Tremayne. MCFARLAND & Company Incorporated. ISBN 9780786466672. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- "Fidelma 1, Absolution by murder (English version) | ARBORIS.NL". arboris.nl. Retrieved 1 December 2015.