Friday Book Review – Shroud for the Archbishop

As has happened before, I am too tired to upload an image. It can be such a bloody chore.

When I read this book, before logging it in, I scrolled through other people’s reviews. Then I went back and read a few more reviews for the first book. Then, my heart swiftly sinking below my knees, I checked a couple of reviews for book three. So. Many. People. Liked. Them. “What’s wrong with me?” I wailed. Well, not wailed, but I was mystified and wondered at my insufficiency.

The story is set in the far reaches of history, in a land of beautiful scenery and rampant history going on everywhere. We have a fiery Irish sister who not only solves crimes, but does so with the highest authority. The lady can speak on a level with kings, and just about DOES. Lots of people lie, almost as many die. Everything is crammed into about the space of three or four days.

AND YET I WAS BORED.

After having read the first two books, I’m convinced that it’s the presentation. The tone is very dry, and I felt no difference between reading this and skimming a heavy textbook. Although characters do emote, the style is almost strictly 100% tell. A lot of reviews bring up Show-Don’t-Tell, but they usually don’t explain what they mean. Telling, even when an emotion is involved, renders the information flat. “Fidelma was astonished.” Knowing how she felt is not the same as seeing how she felt. Showing the same would look more like this: “Fidelma staggered back a step, one hand half-raised to her heart.”

I don’t think there is any showing at all, if that’s possible. You’d think it’d at least happen by accident. And I think the reason is easily ascertained by examining another problem with the book: treating readers like idiots. Granted, the author knows more in general than probably anyone who will ever read this book. But he doesn’t encourage, facilitate, or even allow inference. The worst culprit is this gem:

“…If a man dare kiss, or even touch a woman against her will, by law of the Fenechus he can be fined two hundred and forty silver screpall.

Eadulf knew that the screpall was one of the main Irish coins that were circulated.

I didn’t know what a screpall was before Fidelma used the word. But her usage of it made it pretty clear that it meant MONEY. Not only was no further information necessary, the manner in which it was given is ridiculous. That kind of thing runs rampant throughout. This kind of information should be a seamless part of the story, not jarring insertions of research notes. Seriously, I had to pay extra attention in order to distinguish the novel from the lengthy notes included.

The murder mystery itself may be a decent, forensics mystery, but having the correct formula with some good twists isn’t enough. The world is too starkly presented and the characters somehow manage to have absolutely no voice. At all. I didn’t think you could even do that.

I want so much to like these books, and all I get out of them is tired and bewildered. I remember someone once complaining to me of the weakness in the setting of the first book, but this one was really bad. All I remember are the cockroaches at that one boarding house and that the catacombs were massively disappointing.

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