Behind the Book: THE TIN GOD by Chris Nickson

tin god

Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Tom Harper’s wife Annabelle is one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian. But as the campaign begins, Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home. When the threats escalate into outright violence with fatal consequences, Harper knows he’s in a race against time to uncover the culprit before more deaths follow. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal . . .


Women in politics is a striking theme in the fascinating new Tom Harper mystery, THE TIN GOD.  Superintendent Tom Harper’s own wife, Annabelle, stands as a Poor Law Guardian, but it seems some people aren’t happy at the idea of women standing for election, with devastating consequences . . . This compelling historical crime mystery is steeped in 1890s Leeds, but how did more recent political events inspire Chris Nickson’s latest page-turner?

I’d finished an event relating to the last Tom Harper book, ON COPPER STREET, and was beginning to think of the next one when a historian friend said, ‘Why don’t you have Annabelle run for office?’ and suddenly it all clicked into place. Nineteenth-century women’s politics in Leeds is her subject, so she supplied the grounding, and the rest just took off. Also, this came in the wake of the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox, and the public humiliation of Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate. It seemed that men didn’t want women in politics and were determined to denigrate them. Although this is very much an historical crime novel, it’s meant to be very much an answer to those males, that women will continue, no matter what’s placed in their way, and to try and stop them is going against the tide of history. The subject matter makes it very dark, yet it’s also a celebration, and it gave me the chance to work Tom’s story and his wife Annabelle’s together in a different way. It’s different to the previous books in the series, yet equally political and driven by crime, but of a different sort. What’s interesting is that out of this has come an exhibition, to be held in May at Leeds Central Library, called The Vote Before The Vote, curated by Vine Pemberton Joss, who gave me the idea for the book. I’m assisting in this, and the book launch will be part of it. We’re mixing fact and fiction by featuring Annabelle alongside real historical figures, to make her story and struggle to be elected a part of the narrative.

Want to know more? Click here for more information about the book and Chris Nickson.


Did You Know? THE RED HAND OF FURY by R. N. Morris

Red Hand of Fury 4

June, 1914. A young man is mauled to death by a polar bear at London Zoo. Shortly afterwards, another young man leaps to his death from a notorious Suicide Bridge. Two seemingly unconnected deaths – and yet there are similarities.

Following a third attempted suicide, DI Silas Quinn knows he must uncover the link between the three men to discover why they took their own lives. What does a card found in each of the victims’ possession, depicting a crudely-drawn red hand, signify? To find the answers, Quinn must revisit his own dark past. But can he keep his sanity in the process?

Dark, ominous, brilliant . . . the fourth title in the superb Detective Inspector Silas Quinn historical mystery series had us gripped from the beginning! This unputdownable read deals with mental illness, with the spotlight not only on the victims but also the intriguing and complicated DI Quinn himself. Author R. N. Morris shares this fascinating (and disturbing!) fact about an American psychiatrist’s theory. Did you know . . .

An American psychiatrist called Cotton believed that all mental illnesses had a single physiological cause – a germ of madness, if you like. This germ spread through the bloodstream and poisoned the brain. The ‘cure’ was to surgically remove the source of the infection, which he initially believed to be the teeth and tonsils. But when this didn’t really work he whipped out stomachs, spleens, cervixes and colons. He claimed this cured up to 85 per cent of the mad. It’s hard to believe now, but his theories were taken seriously and he had his followers around the world, including England.

THE RED HAND OF FURY is available now in the UK and from 1 July in the US. Read more about it here.


DEATH OF A NOVICE by Cora Harrison: Spotlight on Cork

daeth of a novice

The Reverend Mother is shocked when Sister Gertrude is found dead inside a small wooden shed beside the river. Delving into the young nun’s background, she finds some puzzling anomalies. Why did she not delay her entry to the convent until after her sister’s wedding? Could there be a link between Sister Gertrude’s death and the gunpowder explosion on Spike Island? The Reverend Mother must find the answers to these questions if she is to safeguard her community from suspicions of murder.


The fifth Reverend Mother mystery sees Reverend Mother Aquinas facing another puzzling investigation, and we were kept guessing till the end . . . If you’re looking for a historical mystery set in Ireland, this is the book for you! Author Cora Harrison shares some fascinating historical facts on Cork, the setting for the series:

  • Cork city, like Venice, was built on a marsh. Most of its main streets were originally rivers or canals and the water still flows beneath these streets.
  • In 1920s Cork city, Ireland, overcrowding was defined as more than nine people living in one room.
  • Also in 1920s Cork city, eight babies out of every hundred born died within twelve months.
  • The first woman professor in the UK and Ireland was Mary Ryan of University College, Cork, in the year 1910. 

DEATH OF A NOVICE is published 30 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Read more about Cora Harrison and the Reverend Mother series here.

#BookExtract: SABOTAGE IN THE SECRET CITY by Diane Fanning

sabotage in the secretMay 1945. Harry S. Truman has become president, the Allied Forces are closing in on Berlin and the research scientists at the secret facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are doing their bit to bring the war to as swift a conclusion as possible. But does the end justify the means? Libby Clark has mixed feelings about the horror she and her fellow scientists are labouring to unleash on the citizens of Japan – and a campaign of small acts of sabotage convinces Libby that one of their number is deliberately trying to delay the mission. But when the pranks turn deadly, Libby is forced once again to turn undercover sleuth in order to prevent further deaths and keep the focus on ending World War II.

Can research chemist-sleuth Libby Clark uncover the traitor within in this gripping World War II mystery? Read this book extract from SABOTAGE IN THE SECRET CITY, coming 30 March in the UK and 1 July in the US!

I reached the building but saw no sign of the courier. I worried that he had already been inside when the fire erupted. I ran to the door, but it was engulfed in flames. The intensity was growing with every passing moment. I heard the approaching clang of our new fire truck, but I was too close to the billowing smoke of the burning structure, to see more than a foot ahead of me. I stepped back away from the source and spotted the emergency vehicle approaching with a convoy of military jeeps and trucks trailing right behind.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d been told to go to the rendezvous point and if the courier was not there, I should go inside and wait for his arrival or for someone to arrive and present me with a new set of orders, but I certainly couldn’t go inside. My soldier rushed to assist the firefighters  so much for always staying by my side. I felt quite vulnerable standing on the edge of the chaos holding the precious cargo in my hands.

My suspicious mind was building a case around the possibility that the fire was merely a ruse to isolate me and steal the crystals. I was thinking about driving off in the jeep, securing the package in the lab and returning for the soldier, when I heard my name shouted in a very familiar voice. The rigid posture and stony face of Lieutenant Colonel Crenshaw headed my way . . .

Read more about Diane Fanning and other titles in the Libby Clark World War II mystery series here.




Behind the Book: MURDER TAKES A TURN by Eric Brown



When Langham’s literary agent receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the grand Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught, Charles Elder seems reluctant to attend. What really happened between Elder and Connaught during the summer of 1917?

Accompanying his agent to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that Charles is not the only one to have received a letter. And when a body is discovered, dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself, are uncovered . . .


We’re completely engrossed by Eric Brown’s well-crafted Langham & Dupré mystery series, but had one burning question after reading the new book in the series, MURDER TAKES A TURN: what inspired it? Eric explains the central idea behind the story . . . 

I’m fascinated about where writers write. Roald Dahl famously had a shed at the bottom of his garden. A friend of mine likes nothing more than to tap away at his laptop in a noisy cafe. Lester del Rey, the American science fiction writer, liked to write in silence and in a confined space – so he worked in a specially adapted wardrobe! I now have my own study, but I have written in a Tibetan monastery in Nepal, on my father’s boat on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and in a garden shed. Last year I read an article about the restoration of George Bernard Shaw’s famous study – a garden shed on a turntable which he could rotate to follow the sun. This set me to wondering if it would be possible to build a revolving study which followed the path of the sun – not manually powered, as was Shaw’s, but turned by an electric motor. Research into this possibility led me to the central idea behind my murder-mystery MURDER TAKES A TURN. A friend of mine is an electrical engineer, and I put the problem to him: would it be possible to have a weighty study – made even heavier by the inclusion of an upright piano, a table and several chairs – that could be turned by an electric motor? To my relief the answer was, “Yes, depending on the power of the motor and a suitable arrangement of gear wheels.” On this I built the plot of the novel, in which the despised novelist Denbigh Connaught invites a few old friends down to his Cornish country pile for the weekend – friends he has, over the years, slighted in one way or another. Needless to say, during the course of the weekend a corpse is discovered . . . in the writer’s revolving study.

MURDER TAKES A TURN is available from 30 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Find out more about this title and the Langham and Dupré mysteries here.



Five things you might not know about . . . Clea Simon

cross my path An elderly woman seeks private investigator Care’s help in finding out what happened to her brother – a woman who Blackie senses he’s met before, some time before he became a cat. But who is she . . . and what is their connection? At the same time, a dockworker asks Care to find a colleague who’s gone missing. But how come a poor labourer has the funds to pay for Care’s services? As Blackie and Care delve further, it becomes clear that neither client has been telling the whole truth. And then the investigation takes a disturbing new twist . . .


Our favourite feline, Blackie, returns in this twisty new mystery! Care’s reputation as a private investigator is growing and clients are beating a path to her door, but the reappearance of an old enemy from the past spells trouble for her and Blackie . . . Find out some interesting facts about author Clea Simon – and cats – below!

Did you know . . .  that the myths about black cats are relatively modern? In Ancient Egypt cats of any colour were considered divine (and, thus, good luck) and in the ancient Norse legends, the goddess Freya rode in a chariot pulled by a pair of black cats.

In the past . . . I’ve worked in just about all aspects of newspapers and for years was a music critic.

Professional organisations/societies . . . I’m a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, an international professional association. Also, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and National Book Critics Circle.

Books I’ll always keep . . . More and more, I’m realizing that my childhood favorites, C.S.Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” have influenced me as an adult writer.

You might not know . . . I worked with a mass murderer in high school. The convicted murderer Joel Rifkin was the photographer of my high school newspaper when I was the editor. So much for my instincts!

CROSS MY PATH is out 30 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Find out more about this title and others in the Blackie & Care series here.

Sleuthfest 2018: Marty Ambrose

Marty Ambrose, author of the fascinating new historical mystery featuring Lord Byron, CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET, not only attended the recent 25th anniversary of Sleuthfest in Florida – she was also on a historical mystery panel with D.J. Niko and Diane A.S. Stuckart! What’s her top tip for incorporating research into writing? Read on . . .


Sleuthfest in Boca Raton, Florida, is an amazing writers’ event every year, and this one was special: the 25th anniversary of the conference! I’ve attended only a dozen or so –but never returned home without having acquired new knowledge and new friends. Only at Sleuthfest can you learn how about murder and marketing during the same day. This year, I had the opportunity to be on a “Historical Mystery” panel with my fellow writers, D.J. Niko and Diane A.S. Stuckart. We covered a variety of topics that explored how to include important facts in historical novels – and not to show “our index cards.” A tough task, to be sure. I shared my strategy for incorporating research in my new historical mystery, CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET: start with journals and diaries from the era to add the personal perspective, then “shade” the scene with touches of authentic details. A historical mystery still needs to be character-driven – besides, it is fiction after all. Or so we think . . .


CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET is available from 31 May/UK and 1 September/US. Read more about this exciting new historical mystery here.

Behind the Book: NO SECOND CHANCES by Don Bruns


second chances

One of Quentin Archer’s fellow officers has been shot dead in broad daylight, in his own squad car. A random cop killing . . . or something more sinister? With no leads to go on, Archer turns to voodoo queen Solange Cordray for help. But is he prepared to take her advice?

As Archer uncovers some surprising facts about the dead man’s past, there is another murder. With the simmering racial tensions in the city threatening to escalate into outright violence, Archer begins to suspect there’s far more to Officer Leroy’s killing than he’d first supposed. Could it be part of a carefully-orchestrated plan of revenge . . .?


NO SECOND CHANCES is a wonderfully engaging mystery which, like the previous two titles in the Quentin Archer series, CASTING BONES and THRILL KILL, also reflects larger talking points in the news. Author Don Bruns explains the theme that runs through the series . . .

My three Quentin Archer novels are themed with what is called “ripped from the headlines” plots. Stories that reflect front page news. Kirkus says of NO SECOND CHANCES: “headline-driven paranoia.”

The first book, CASTING BONES, was written about the corrupt prison system in Louisiana. THRILL KILL involves human trafficking in The Big Easy, and NO SECOND CHANCES takes on the Black Lives Matter theme.

The murder of a white cop, followed by the shooting of an unarmed black burglar has all the elements of a race-induced hate crime. But what if it wasn’t? Whatever the reasons for civilians and police being gunned down, the numbers are growing. The headlines are becoming more gruesome and the stories more compelling.

Checking statistics for the first two months and eleven days of this year in the United States, the police have killed 195 civilians. Civilians have killed 21 law enforcement agents. It’s a staggering number of killings just seventy days into 2018. I think NO SECOND CHANCES speaks to that epidemic.

Find out more about the Quentin Archer mysteries here.




March UK titles coming soon!

Coming 30 March . . . From the streets of Victorian Leeds to a top-secret facility in World War II America, our March mysteries are full of intrigue and surprises!

Red Hand of Fury 4The Red Hand of Fury
by R. N. Morris

June, 1914. A young man is mauled to death by a polar bear at London Zoo, while another young man leaps to his death from a notorious Suicide Bridge. Two seemingly unconnected deaths, but there are similarities. Following a third attempted suicide, DI Silas Quinn knows he must uncover the link between the three men if he is to discover what caused them to take their own lives. A card was found in each of the victims’ possession, depicting a crudely-drawn red hand. What does it signify? To find the answers, Quinn must revisit his own dark past. But can he keep his sanity?

tin god

The Tin God
by Chris Nickson

Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Harper’s wife Annabelle is one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian, but Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home. The threats escalate into outright violence when an explosion rips through the church hall where Annabelle is due to hold a meeting – with fatal consequences. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal for Tom Harper . . .


murder1Murder Takes a Turn
by Eric Brown

Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught. Accompanying Charles to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that they are not the only guests. And when a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself – are uncovered.


daeth of a noviceDeath of a Novice
by Cora Harrison

When new young nun, Sister Gertrude, is found dead inside a wooden shed, the Reverend Mother delves into her background and finds some puzzling anomalies. Could there be a link between her death and the gunpowder explosion on Spike Island? The answers to this question and more must be found if the Reverend Mother is to catch a vicious murderer.



sabotage in the secret

Sabotage in the Secret City
by Diane Fanning

May 1945. Harry S. Truman has become president, the Allied Forces are closing in on Berlin and the research scientists at the secret facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are doing their bit to bring the war to a conclusion. But does the end justify the means? A campaign of small acts of sabotage convinces Libby that one of their number is deliberately trying to delay the mission. But when the pranks turn deadly, can Libby unmask the traitor within?


queen's progressQueen’s Progress
by M J Trow

May, 1591. Queen Elizabeth decides to embark on a Royal Progress, and Kit Marlowe is sent ahead to ensure all goes smoothly. But Marlowe’s mission is dogged by disaster with the discovery of bodies along the way. Are the incidents linked? Is there a conspiracy to sabotage the Queen’s Progress? To uncover the truth, Marlowe must come up with a fiendishly clever plan.


cross my pathCross My Path
by Clea Simon

Care’s reputation as a private investigator is growing and clients are beating a path to her door. An elderly woman seeks Care’s help in finding out what happened to her brother. Blackie senses he’s met this woman before, sometime before he became a cat. But who is she – and what is their connection? At the same time, a dockworker asks Care to find a colleague who’s gone missing, and the investigation takes a disturbing new twist . . .

Behind the Book: NIGHT OF THE LIGHTBRINGER by Peter Tremayne


Ireland, AD 671. On the eve of the pagan feast of Samhain, Brother Eadulf and the warrior, Aidan, discover a man murdered in an unlit pyre in the heart of Cashel. He has been dressed in the robes of a religieux and killed by the ritualistc ‘three deaths’.

When a strange woman known as Brancheo appears in a raven-feather cloak foretelling of ancient gods returning to exact revenge upon the mortal world, she is quickly branded a suspect. But in their search for the killer, Sister Fidelma and Eadulf will soon discover a darker shadow looming over the fortress. For their investigation is linked to a book stolen from the Papal Secret Archives which could destroy the New Faith in the Five Kingdoms . . . and Fidelma herself will come up against mortal danger before the case is unravelled.

The masterfully engaging Sister Fidelma mysteries are set mainly in Ireland during the mid-seventh century AD. This fascinating insight into FIDELMA’S WORLD, written by author Peter Tremayne, is taken with kind permission from the Sister Fidelma Society website

Sister Fidelma is not simply a religieuse, a former member of the community of St Brigid of Kildare. She is also a qualified dalaigh, or advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland.

Ireland, in the seventh century AD, consisted of five main provincial kingdoms; indeed, the modern Irish word for a province is still cuige, literally “a fifth”. Four provincial kings – of Ulaidh (Ulster), of Connacht, of Muman (Munster) and of Laigin (Leinster) – gave their qualified allegiance to the Ard Ri or High King, who ruled from Tara, in the “royal” fifth province of Midhe (Meath), which means the “middle province”. Even among the provincial kingdoms, there was a decentralisation of power to petty-kingdoms and clan territories.

The law of primogeniture, the inheritance by the eldest son or daughter, was an alien concept in Ireland. Kingship, from the lowliest clan chieftain to the High King, was only partially hereditary and mainly electoral. Each ruler had to prove himself or herself worthy of office and was elected by the derbhfine of their family – a minimum of three generations from a common ancestor gathered in conclave. If a ruler did not pursue the commonwealth of the people, they were impeached and removed from office. Therefore the monarchical system of ancient Ireland had more in common with a modern-day republic than with the feudal monarchies which had developed elsewhere in medieval Europe.

Ireland, in the seventh century AD, was governed by a system of sophisticated laws called the Laws of the Fenechus, or land-tillers, which became more popularly known as the Brehon Laws, deriving from the word breitheamh – a judge. Tradition has it that these laws were first gathered in 714 BC by the order of the High King, Ollamh Fodhla. But it was in AD 438 that the High King, Laoghaire, appointed a commission of nine learned people to study, revise, and commit the laws to the new writing in Latin characters. One of those serving on the commission was Patrick, eventually to become patron saint of Ireland. After three years, the commission produced a written text of the laws which is the first known codification.

The first complete surviving text of the ancient laws of Ireland is preserved in an eleventh century manuscript book. It was not until the seventeenth century that the English colonial administration in Ireland finally suppressed the use of the Brehon law system, following the devastating conquests that lasted from 1541 to 1691. To even possess a copy of the law books was punishable, often by death or transportation even towards the end of the eighteenth century.

It was at the insistence of Charles Graves (1812-1899), grandfather of Robert Graves (1895–1985), that the British Government set up a Royal Commission in 1865 to rescue the law texts, translate and edit them. Charles Graves, from an Anglo-Irish family was Bishop of Limerick, President of the Royal Irish Academy and an expert on Ogham writing. He was also a professor at Trinity College, Dublin. Thanks to Graves, six volumes Ancient Laws of Ireland were published between 1865-1901.

The law system was not static, and every three years at the Feis Temhrach (Festival of Tara) the lawyers and administrators gathered to considered and revise the laws in the light of changing society and its needs.

Under these laws, women occupied a unique place. The Irish laws gave more rights and protection to women than any other western law code at that time or until recent times. Women could, and did, aspire to all offices and professions as co-equal with men. They could be political leaders, command their people in battle as warriors, be physicians, local magistrates, poets, artisans, lawyers and judges. We know the names of many female judges of Fidelma’s period – Brig Briugaid, Aine Ingine Iugaire and Dari among others. Dari, for example, was not only a judge but the author of a noted law text written in the sixth century AD. Women were protected by law against sexual harassment; against discrimination; against rape; they had the right of divorce on equal terms from their husbands, with equitable separation laws, and could demand part of their husband’s property in a divorce settlement; they had the right of inheritance of personal property and land and the right of sickness benefits when ill or hospitalized. Ancient Ireland has Europe’s oldest recorded system of hospitals. Seen from today’s perspective, the Brehon Laws provided for what might be considered a society approaching an almost feminist paradise.

This background, and its strong contrast with Ireland’s European neighbours, should be understood in order to appreciate Fidelma’s role in these stories. Fidelma was born at Cashel, capital of the kingdom of Muman (Munster) in south-west Ireland, in AD 636. She was the youngest daughter of Failbe Fland, the King, who died the year after her birth. Fidelma was raised under the guidance of a distant cousin, Abbot Laisran of Durrow. When she reached the “Age of Choice”, considered the time of maturity for woman (fourteen years), she went to study at the bardic school of the Brehon Morann of Tara as did many other young Irish girls in search of higher education. Eight years of study resulted in Fidelma obtaining the degree of anruth, only one degree below the highest offered at either bardic or ecclesiastical universities in ancient Ireland.

The highest degree was ollamh, which is still the modern Irish word for a professor. Fidelma’s studies were in law, both in the criminal code of the Senchus Mor and the civil code of the Lebor Acaill. Thereby, she became a dalaigh or advocate of the courts.

Her main role could be compared to a modern Scottish sheriff substitute whose job is to gather and assess the evidence, independent of the police, to see if there is a case to be answered. The modern French juge d’instruction holds a similar role. However, sometimes Fidelma is faced with the task of prosecuting in the courts or defending, even rendering judgments in minor cases when a Brehon was not available.

In those days, most of the professionals or intellectual classes were members of the New Christian religious houses, just as, in previous centuries, all members of the professions and intellectuals had been Druids. Fidelma became a member of the religious community of Kildare founded in the late fifth century AD by St Brigid. But she decided to leave Kildare in disillusionment. The reason why may be found in the title story of the Fidelma short story collection Hemlock At Vespers.

While the seventh century AD was considered part of the European “Dark Ages”, for Ireland it was a period of “Golden Enlightenment”. Students from every corner of Europe flocked to Irish universities to receive their education, including the sons of many of the Anglo-Saxon kings. At the great ecclesiastical university of Durrow, at this time, it is recorded that no fewer than eighteen different nations were represented among the students. At the same time, Irish male and female missionaries were setting out to reconvert a pagan Europe to Christianity, establishing churches, monasteries, and centres of learning throughout Europe as far east as Kiev, in the Ukraine; as far north as the Faroes, and as far south as Taranto in southern Italy. Ireland became a byword for literacy and learning.

However, the Celtic Church of Ireland was in constant dispute with Rome on matters of liturgy and ritual. Rome had begun to reform itself in the fourth century, changing its dating of Easter and aspects of its liturgy. The Celtic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches refused to follow Rome, but the Celtic Church was gradually absorbed by Rome between the ninth and eleventh centuries while the Eastern Orthodox churches had continued to remain independent of Rome. The Celtic Church of Ireland, during Fidelma’s time, was much concerned with this conflict so that it is impossible to write of Church matters without referring to the philosophical warfare between them.

One thing that was shared by both the Celtic Church and Rome in the seventh century was that the concept of celibacy was not universal. While there were always ascetics in the Churches who sublimated physical love in a dedication to the deity, it was not until the Council of Nicea in AD 325 that clerical marriages were condemned but not banned in the Western Church. The concept of celibacy arose in Rome mainly from the customs practised by the pagan priestesses of Vesta and the priests of Diana.

By the fifth century, Rome had forbidden its clerics from the rank of abbot and bishop to sleep with their wives and, shortly after, even to marry at all. The general clergy were discouraged from marrying by Rome but not forbidden to do so. Indeed, it was not until the reforming papacy of Leo IX (AD 1049-1054) that a serious attempt was made to force the Western clergy to accept universal celibacy. In fact, Leo went so far as to order that wives of priests should be sent as slaves to the Lateran palace, then the papal centre, while Urban II, in 1189, ordered that wives of priests could be seized as slaves by members of the nobility. Many wives of the clergy were driven to suicide by these rulings. The bulk of the religious of the Celtic Church took centuries to give up their anti-celibacy attitudes and fall into line with Rome. However, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, priests below the rank of abbot and bishop have retained their right to marry until this day.

An understanding of these facts concerning the liberal attitudes towards sexual relationships in the Celtic Church is essential towards understanding the background to the Fidelma stories.

The condemnation of the “sin of the flesh” remained alien to the Celtic Church for a long time after Rome’s attitude became a dogma. In Fidelma’s world both sexes inhabited abbeys and monastic foundations, which were known as conhospitae, or double houses, where men and women lived raising their children in Christ’s service.

Fidelma’s own house of St Brigid of Kildare was one such community of both sexes during her time. When Brigid established her community of Kildare (Cill-Dara – the church of the oaks) she invited a bishop named Conlaed to join her. Her first biography, completed fifty years after her death, in AD 650 during Fidelma’s lifetime, was written by a monk of Kildare named Cogitosus, who makes it clear that it continued to be a mixed community in his day.

It should also be pointed out that, demonstrating women’s coequal role with men, women were priests of the Celtic Church in this period. Brigid herself was ordained a bishop by Patrick’s nephew, Mel, and her case was not unique. Rome actually wrote a protest, in the sixth century, at the Celtic practice of allowing women to celebrate the divine sacrifice of Mass.

Unlike the Roman Church, the Irish Church did not have a system of “confessors” where “sins” had to be confessed to clerics who then had the authority to absolve those sins in Christ’s name. Instead, people chose a “soul friend” (anam chara), out of clerics or laity, with whom they discussed matters of emotional and spiritual well-being.

In writing these stories, I have not invented one law nor presented any legal matter, or, indeed, any background detail, that cannot be substantiated by historical research into evidence or literary remains of the period.

To help readers locate in Fidelma’s part of Ireland in the seventh century, where its geo-political divisions will be mainly unfamiliar, most of the books carry a sketch map. To help readers more readily identify personal names, a list of principal characters is given in each book.

I have generally refused to use anachronistic place names for obvious reasons although I have bowed to a few usages; eg Tara, rather than Teamhair; and Cashel, rather than Caiseal Muman; and Armagh in place of Ard Macha. However, I have cleaved to the name of Muman rather than the prolepsis form “Munster” formed when the Norse stadr (place) was added to the Irish name in the ninth century AD and eventually Anglicized. Similarly I have maintained Laigin rather than the Anglicized form of Leinster based on the Norse form Laighin-stadr and Ulaidh rather than Ulaidh-stadr for Ulster.

The foregoing information may merely enhance your trip into Fidelma’s world but, hopefully, a deep academic understanding of ancient Ireland should in no way be a perquisite for what, after all, is primarily entertainment.