Independently published, Australia, 2021
Maureen Cashman’s historical novel The Roland Medals is a beautifully crafted story, elegantly written and demonstrating an adept control of literary dramatic tension.
The historical story takes place in 16th century Spain; the modern story begins in Finland and then moves to contemporary Spain, particularly the much-walked pilgrims’ way, the Camino de Santiago.
The contemporary story centres on Armi, a Finnish border force guard. A traumatic event in our modern protagonist’s workplace leads to her taking extended leave; emotionally damaged and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she flees to the Camino to try to overcome her distress and to distance herself from her criminal perpetrator.
The historical tale follows the fortunes of monks Carmelo, who is a goldsmith, and Rodrigo along with the two women who become their charges during a series of perilous journeys, the Viscountesses Sancha and Aline.
The women in both story lines have suffered abuse at the hands of some of the men in their lives. They also enjoy the care and protection of others and this leads us into two gently hesitant love stories that also run parallel.
At its heart The Roland Medals is a mystery, a crime story that swirls across centuries in the hallowed halls of academia, in the treacherous world of the wealthy corporates, on the beaten paths of the Camino and in the monastery at San Miguel. It is Armi, ever the investigator, who, despite her trauma, is compelled to sort out the puzzle of what is not quite right at San Miguel and the stories she is being told or not told.
Maureen Cashman’s own extensive travels and several walks on parts of the Camino, along with her intensive and thorough research into documents pertaining to the 16th century Spanish history, ensure a powerful evocation of place. Her attention to the psychological verisimilitude of her characters, their motivations and behaviours assures us of a satisfying sense of realism, whilst always keeping our hearts in the fiction.
Inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the author’s own quixotic Spanish road trip story with its many dark twists leaves us wanting to walk the Camino ourselves. The many descriptive landscape outtakes from The Roland Medals, judiciously removed by the author, she tells us, to keep the reader and the story on track, would certainly be worthy of another work in which Maureen Cashman could indulge her flaneur’s love for nature and architecture.
Thank you to Maureen Cashman for a review copy of the book and for generously spending time with me in conversation about her work.