Ever since I read The Deeper Song by Patricia Pfitsch I have been fascinated by the relatively unacknowledged influence of women on recorded history, especially that of the Bible. Combine that with my love of historical mysteries and old Ireland, and you’ll understand why I gravitated to The Gospel of Mary.
Second in a series about Sister Deirdre, The Gospel of Mary begins with a flurry as Deirdre comforts an old and dying nun from a faraway abbey who made her way to Deirdre on purpose to entrust her with a very special document. Deirdre, who specializes in books and scrolls, takes ownership of the fragile papyrus and promises to keep it safe. After translating the first line, she understands that she holds a previously unseen gospel written by Mary, the Mother of Jesus the Christ. Deirdre also immediately understands that men of the church will be looking for the document and will likely stop at nothing to get it. Realizing that her presence in the abbey puts everyone at risk, she travels to the stronghold of an old friend and former lover, who she trusts will keep her safe while she translates the document and tries to preserve it. What she doesn’t know is that a priest is already hunting her. As Deirdre struggles to know who to trust, she learns more about the woman who gave birth to a god and comes to understand that she must keep the document safe at all costs, leading up to a surprising ending.
Freeman is a Celtic scholar, and his knowledge of this historical era lends an authenticity to the story that is often missing in others like it. Stories about lost gospels are common, but Freeman has taken an old trope and transported it back in time, when people lived and died by the sword, and no one was safe from betrayal. He has created a smart, gutsy, brave character in Sister Deirdre who is confident in herself and in her faith. Freeman paints a vivid picture of an Ireland teetering between the old religion and new Christianity, and lends authority to the characters who live with a foot in each world.
While I have not read the first in this series, I plan to go back and do so, then will look forward to the next. Recommended for lovers of historical mysteries.