Reviews

Exhaustively researched, The Roland Medals sweeps across countries and centuries to tell a story of dangers, secrets, and the power of love. Natalie Conyer, winner of the 2020 Ned Kelly Award for best debut crime novel.

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. Barbie Robinson, Living Arts Canberra.

I was lucky to read an advance e book edition of this novel. It is a gripping read, intertwining two intriguing stories set five centuries apart. The first is the story of Armi, a troubled twenty something Finnish border guard seeking refuge on the Camino and the mystery she encounters at an ancient Spanish monastery on the winter route of the Camino. The second is the epic tale of Carmelo, a wandering monk who creates a set of medals celebrating the medieval epic poem, The Song of Roland. His work takes him on a journey fraught with danger and temptation as he and his brother monk Rodrigo escort two Spanish noblewomen through battle torn Spain. I was impressed that each story is allowed to flow – not constantly interrupted by the other, coming together in the monastery where Armi is sheltering.
The book is well researched which adds to the pleasure. If you enjoy mysteries with touches of romance, historical fiction, love Spain and the Camino or just enjoy a great read, this is for you.Sue F

I found the mystery romance ‘The Roland Medals’ by Maureen Cashman hard to put down. The landscape of the Camino in Northern Spain is beautifully drawn and the ruined monastery’s secrets are gradually revealed. The driving plot weaves two characters’ stories across the centuries to a very satisfying ending. They each journey from home, overcome murderous challenges to eventually find themselves and love.Carol F

🌟🌟🌟🌟The Roland Medals is a unique and complex work of fiction, comprehensively researched to produce a story of mystery and romance, with a juxtaposition of past and present. Angela D

A gripping and fulfilling read. The Roland Medals lives up to the hype on the cover. Cashman has really researched all aspects, both historical and contemporary, to make for a very interesting and compelling story . . .. Her style is clear and easy, allowing the reader to enjoy the richness of the plot, as well as the landscape and people. Once I started reading, I was hooked. I loved this book.Helen on Apple Reader (5 stars)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Roland Medals. In fact I found it to be a ‘can’t put down’ book. I liked the way the author brought the elements of the story together with enough of a hint of something to come but without any sudden not-credible surprises. Gill G

I loved this book. I loved the story and the interweaving of past and present in a way which I found compelling, and I loved the marvellous research which underpinned every landscape and event. I found it enthralling. Gwen McN

Sixteenth century monk Carmelo, artist and adventurer, springs to life from the pages of The Roland Medals. Maureen Cashman has the gift of surrounding readers with the sights and sounds and smells of her story, in a vivid and engaging way, so that readers are immediately there, in the mountains of Castile, where we meet Carmelo as a novice. We follow him though his apprenticeship in Florence where he learns the skills of a medallist, then his return to Spain. It’s hard to portray artists convincingly in fiction, especially ones who lived over four hundred years ago; but Carmelo is entirely credible, not only when it comes to his artwork, but in his friendships, and the dangers and privations he endures in order to protect his friends.
Carmelo’s life story is written in a style popular during the Renaissance, purportedly set down at the request of his patron. It begins with a dedication, which is full of subtle and delicious ironies, such as the following: ‘my talents reside less in wordsmithing than in the other arts’. Well, Carmelo is a wonderful wordsmith! And: ‘I beg your patience if I occasionally digress from the broad path of narrative and retreat into the byways of my own heart’.
In the twenty-first century, first in Finland, then on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and finally at a ruined monastery undergoing restoration, readers meet Armi, a Finnish Border Guard fleeing troubles both in her recent and more distant past. Armi’s story is interwoven with Carmelo’s, while the medals Carmelo created for a wealthy patron remain at the centre of both stories, hidden by layers of secrecy.
Cashman’s style is fresh, immediate and compelling. Armi’s friendships with walkers on the Camino, then, and most particularly, with the family helping to restore the monastery are dramatically portrayed. Readers feel Armi’s dilemmas every step of the way, both those caused by her own past, and the mysteries and secrets the family she is drawn to refuse to explain.
The Roland Medals, as well as offering readers memorable characters and an artist’s vision, is very much a story about journeys. Carmelo has to travel long distances and be subjected to the dangers and privations of war before he can find happiness. Likewise, Armi must wander, hurt and lost, before finding a refuge, losing it, then finding it again.
Maureen Cashman has written a deeply satisfying novel, in which the byways of the heart occupy a central place. It’s also a story that will take readers a long way from the comforts of their own homes, and then, possibly, return them again. Dorothy Johnston, author of the Sea Change Mysteries.

Sixteenth century monk Carmelo, artist and adventurer, springs to life from the pages of The Roland Medals. Maureen Cashman has the gift of surrounding readers with the sights and sounds and smells of her story, in a vivid and engaging way, so that readers are immediately there, in the mountains of Castile, where we meet Carmelo as a novice. We follow him though his apprenticeship in Florence where he learns the skills of a medallist, then his return to Spain. It’s hard to portray artists convincingly in fiction, especially ones who lived over four hundred years ago; but Carmelo is entirely credible, not only when it comes to his artwork, but in his friendships, and the dangers and privations he endures in order to protect his friends.
Carmelo’s life story is written in a style popular during the Renaissance, purportedly set down at the request of his patron. It begins with a dedication, which is full of subtle and delicious ironies, such as the following: ‘my talents reside less in wordsmithing than in the other arts’. Well, Carmelo is a wonderful wordsmith! And: ‘I beg your patience if I occasionally digress from the broad path of narrative and retreat into the byways of my own heart’.
In the twenty-first century, first in Finland, then on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and finally at a ruined monastery undergoing restoration, readers meet Armi, a Finnish Border Guard fleeing troubles both in her recent and more distant past. Armi’s story is interwoven with Carmelo’s, while the medals Carmelo created for a wealthy patron remain at the centre of both stories, hidden by layers of secrecy.
Cashman’s style is fresh, immediate and compelling. Armi’s friendships with walkers on the Camino, then, and most particularly, with the family helping to restore the monastery are dramatically portrayed. Readers feel Armi’s dilemmas every step of the way, both those caused by her own past, and the mysteries and secrets the family she is drawn to refuse to explain.
The Roland Medals, as well as offering readers memorable characters and an artist’s vision, is very much a story about journeys. Carmelo has to travel long distances and be subjected to the dangers and privations of war before he can find happiness. Likewise, Armi must wander, hurt and lost, before finding a refuge, losing it, then finding it again.
Maureen Cashman has written a deeply satisfying novel, in which the byways of the heart occupy a central place. It’s also a story that will take readers a long way from the comforts of their own homes, and then, possibly, return them again. Dorothy Johnston, author of the Sea Change Mysteries.

One of my motives for reading this book was to answer the question of whether the reference was to the same Roland, who inspired the eponymous statues found in many German towns. But once I got into the book, the characters came to life and their fates took on an interest of their own. I wasn’t bowled over or swept away by the story, but while reading I came to resent the interruptions that meals and household duties necessitated and was keen to get back to the story to see where it led. The likelihood of a romantic attachment between the main character and the principal recipient of the American philanthropists’ gratitude became apparent soon after their meeting, but as the story progressed I found that I was wrong a couple of times about how this would play out. So the plot wasn’t too predictable. And Maureen’s research into the historical and geographical bases of the story gave the added bonus of feeling better informed in both areas. So for several reasons I was glad that I spent the time reading this engaging story. Chris Ansted.

Thanks, Richard, for this email review.

Hi Maureen

I enjoyed your book! Would have finished earlier but couldn’t read it on Lord Howe Island!

‘A beautifully constructed tale. A wonderful weave of time, space and characters. Your knowledge of the locales, cuisine, culture and settings in late 16th Century Spain and France, and in the present, gives the reader great confidence to read on. Thorough historical research is obvious. I like the way you move the story along, just enough detail, then a leap into the next scene. Your prose, as ever, is succinct, economical and beautifully crafted. A great read Maureen. Thanks.’ Richard Egan

What do you do at the beginning of a long weekend, when family have left the city for country pursuits and the matriarch needs to escape house and garden chores?

Yes, you settle down with The Roland Medals by Maureen Cashman! And there I stayed until the last page was turned!

It was a great read, Maureen. I wanted to know those many characters and yearned for Armi to find her pathway to a better destiny. Layers of time kept me a focussed and engaged me as an armchair traveller. The detailed architectural descriptions renewed mind pictures from personal adventures.  I learned many new things about historical Roland, Charlemagne and their compatriots. The social issues related to current shenanigans in Canberra’s palace of power and reflected women’s ongoing challenges.  Dominant settings and mealtimes in Spain have nurtured some major restlessness in my soul.

AND— I am in awe of the depth and extent of research you have undertaken, to ground, scaffold, shower and polish this novel.  I’m also in awe of your patience, persistence and self belief in mothering this creation to publication. Fleur

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