• The Subtle Serpent

  • A Celtic Mystery
  • By: Peter Tremayne
  • Narrated by: Caroline Lennon
  • Length: 12 hrs and 2 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (237 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the year 666 A.D., a headless female corpse is found in the drinking well of a remote abbey in southwest Ireland: clasped in one hand is a crucifix; tied to the other arm is a pagan death symbol. Sister Fidelma--sister to the king of Muman, a religieuse, and an advocate of the Brehon law courts--is sent to investigate. En route, she encounters a Gaulish merchant ship under full sail off the Irish coast--one whose crew and cargo have vanished without a trace.Faced with a tense local situation, Fidelma must discover first the identity of the body in the well and uncover who was responsible, then find out what happened to the missing crew of the adrift merchant ship, and, finally, determine how these bizarre events are connected. For these events are more than simply disturbing - the peace of the entire kingdom rests upon their solution.

©1996 Peter Tremayne (P)2014 Audible Inc.

What listeners say about The Subtle Serpent

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Most Excellent Irish Medieval Mystery

Set in Ireland in the year 666 AD (notice those numbers) there comes a clash between good and evil at a remote abbey. Sister Fidelma is summons to determine who murdered the headless victim pulled up from the well holding a crucifix in one hand and a pagan symbol in the other. While enroute to her destination, her ship encounters an abandoned, wayward ship, in which she finds the satchel of her good friend, Brother Aedolf. This merchant ship is uninhabited and their cargo is gone. The captain of Sister Fidelma’s ship is astonished and vows to help Fidelma find her friend, Aedolf and determine the fate of the ship’s crew and cargo. This story is set in a time and place that are very interesting, and the laws and ways of the abbey, as well as those of the changing political tides kept me listening. This series, which is similar to the Brother Cadfael series, is a top-notch historical mystery listening. The lingering influence of pagan practices and their incorporation into Christian practices has long been of interest to me, and this book answers some of my questions. Excellent story and conclusion.

4 people found this helpful

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Great listening material

So glad to have found this series! Comparable to the Father Cadfael series. Excellent listening.

3 people found this helpful

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Fidelma investigates a murder and an empty ship

This is another excellent mystery in the Sister Fidelma series. I would give this book 3.5 stars, but round it down to 3. Like the other books in this series, there is a solid 4 stars for the well thought out plot and wonderful historical context, but only 3 stars for the rather wooden characters and brusque storytelling. So, let me cover the negative first. The characters tend to be caricatures of themselves. The wicked and twisted really are wicked and twisted. Fidelma, on the other hand, seems to be the author’s ideal superwoman, however, because the author tries to always make her appear perfect, she often comes across as an insecure, humorless know-it-all. I really like the foundation of the Fidelma character and a I think more of a human touch would make her much more relatable. The storytelling also seems a rather brusque, and I wonder if this stems from the author being a scholar who took to fiction writing. That’s what I don’t like, but there is so much to love about this book and series. The plot is very well thought out, and it rarely lags. Details are important and Tremayne drops important details throughout that are important clues. Tremayne also provides a rich and fascinating historical context to the story. All in all, I highly recommend both this book and the whole Fidelma series as well worth your time.

2 people found this helpful

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I almost had this one!

I love a good mystery and Sister Fadelma never fails! the setting of the story is even more intriguing for me as I love to learn about history too

1 person found this helpful

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Enjoyable glimpse into medieval Celtic world

This series continues to shine in the presentation of historical detail in an age rarely covered by the fiction I've read to date. The narrator is particularly good and brings the characters and culture to life.

I continue to find Fidelma's character irritating, but not as much in this installment. I missed that we didn't have as much of Brother Eadulf as in prior books.

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A LOT of detail for an audiobook!

Perhaps, The Subtle Serpent would be better not in an audio format. As it was, with all of the detail, the numerous characters, many of whom had names that sounded only slightly different from others, I found this book to be ridiculously hard to follow in keeping the characters straight. The narration was good — rather as if your accomplished mother or teacher were reading this book to you: pleasant, no distractions, thoroughly easy from these aspects. And, since there were no theatrics to help define the action and because there were only the subtlest attempts at differentiation of characters via voice changes and add the ancient Gaelic person and place names, everything combined made it hard to follow and much of the copious detail was lost.
Under these circumstances I can’t imagine caring to listen to any others in this series, nor, re-listening to this one.
Aspects I liked: good narrator, though, as I’ve said, nothing fancy; the bits of relatively ancient Western history, biblical lore and references; the setting in ancient Ireland, as the relatively fledgling Catholic Church was trying to take it over and throw its net over the rest of the known world as well.

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Wooden serpent

The plot was fine. I enjoy the history and descriptions. perhaps Fidelma even seems less of Cartoon... her introduction in each book seems like it's the same paragraph. But it is the lack of depth in the characters that I realize bothers me. "Spoiler alert " : The reunification of Fidelma and Aedolf seemed a great opportunity for something powerful to happen but it really doesn't.

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Superb

Peter Tremayne is a superb crafter of stories and this book is pure delight. Excellently read as well...couldn't put it down!