Dancing with Demons

Dancing with Demons by Peter Tremayne. Sometimes I just feel like a hypocrite. I have criticized authors in the past for spending too much time on character development and not enough effort on writing intricate mysteries. And yet, I was not entirely satisfied with Tremayne’s latest Sister Fidelma adventure, even though it is has one of the most complex plots in a series that features compelling mysteries. The High King of Ireland has been murdered in his bed within the closely-guarded royal enclosure. In order to insure a smooth transfer of power to the new High King, the Chief Brehon asks Fidelma to come from Cashel with her husband Brother Eadulf to investigate the motive behind the crime and to uncover any unknown collaborators. What they discover is a whole troop of conspirators, each with their own agenda, and a myriad of motives: political, religious and personal. Each chapter reveals a new layer to the crime right through to the final pages.

What is lacking from the story is any development of the two main characters or their marriage. Unlike Pat McIntosh, Tremayne has struggled to move his husband-and-wife investigators forward in their relationship, which has stagnated in the last few books of the Fidelma series. The only change that I’ve noticed in recent books is that Fidelma seems to becoming even more arrogant in her dealings with others, a character flaw that she recognized early on and tried to contain. However, she has done a poor job of it lately.

One similarity to McIntosh’s 15th century Glasgow mysteries is Tremayne’s frequent use of local dialect. Every single page contains some 7th century Irish term, which then needs to be translated into its current Anglicised equivalent. As critics of McIntosh have pointed out, this can be very annoying and distracting and takes away from the flow of the story even as it adds texture and flavor to descriptions of the setting.

Perhaps it’s asking too much of authors to write complex mysteries and to keep their characters growing over a long series of books.


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