Michaelmas Tribute (Burren Mysteries) by Cora Harrison

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Michaelmas Tribute (Burren Mysteries) by Cora Harrison

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: Several surprising murders in the kingdom of the Burren, on the Western coast of Ireland, lead our heroine (Mara) on a tortuous quest for the truth. Were the killings unpremeditated - or brought about through resentment, greed and the desire for revenge? Aided by her scholars in the Law School, Mara doggedly pursues the truth, to bring 16th century justice to her community.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Pan Books
ISBN: 978-0330446464

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Several surprising murders in the kingdom of the Burren, on the Western coast of Ireland, lead our heroine (Mara) on a tortuous quest for the truth. Were the killings unpremeditated - or brought about through resentment, greed and the desire for revenge? Aided by her scholars in the Law School, Mara doggedly pursues the truth, to bring 16th century justice to her community.

This is the second of the Burren series, which is shaping up to be a most interesting and readable addition to this genre. The growing penchant in the market for historical murder fiction is well served by this author, and I hope she adds many more novels to the series. There's a freshness and originality about this book - due, to a combination of many factors - plot, characters, and location, in the main. The author is extremely talented - her descriptive scenes bring the land to life, the conversations of the characters are touching and revealing, and underlying all we have sufficient historical information about this remote community, its traditions and customs. Indeed, at the start of every chapter we are given an extract from its various textbooks, which explain to us some of their traditions and laws:

The fine (kin group), is divided thus -
The gelfine(bright kin), the descendants on the male line of the same grandfather.
The derbhfine(true kin), the descendants on the male line of the same great grandfather.
The iarfine (after kin), the descendants on the male line of the same great, great grandfather.

The heroine, Mara, is a very important and revered figure in her local community. She's the font of judicial wisdom, the repository of its history, and ultimately the judge who decides the law and punishments meted out to the community and its members. At the same time, she is an immensely likeable and approachable character - very much at the heart and soul of her community - quite before her times, in some respects.

In addition to her role in the community, she also heads a legal school, for pre teen/teenage scholars, and here we see a truly caring and nurturing aspect to her personality. The boys adore her - both as a teacher and a friend, and accompany her in her efforts to solve the two killings in the community. This gives a nice slant to the novel, adding in a freshness, and great potential for the future introduction of new blood. Their observations on the cases are acute - perhaps excessively so for ones so young, but nonetheless, it's a clever device, and enables Mara to discuss/think aloud her suspicions with a third party.

Apart from her local relationships, we are tantalised by the knowledge that the King has asked her to marry him - in a most enlightened fashion, he has agreed that she can maintain her position in the community, and even have separate accommodation if necessary: medieval commuting at its best! The King (Turlough) is another delightful character. Deeply in love with Mara, he is patiently awaiting an answer to his proposal - and hopefully subsequent novels will supply a happy outcome to this lovely couple!

The murders themselves, to all intents and appearances, would seem to be relatively straight forward, but more devious and sinister motives are afoot. There are some very clever twists and turns in the plot, and I was genuinely surprised at the outcome.The author cleverly leads us along one trail, only to turn around and scurry off in another direction - page turning and engrossing reading. It will take a clever murderer indeed to outwit this feisty heroine!

The environment, as well as the characters, is well documented, and gives the reader an excellent insight into life in this remote part of the kingdom. The vagaries of human nature too are explored, and add to the overall portrait of an intriguing little community, peopled by some marvellous characters. It is not without humour - off the cuff comments about the strange and foreign young King, Henry VIII, are witty, and emphasise by contrast, just how special a place the Burren truly is.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, despite not having read the first in the series, (but that is soon to be rectified…). Harrison, to date a well respected children's author, clearly writes with passion and love, researches her period very well, and gives us quite a few mysteries to solve along the way too. One small - but very small - criticism: I would have welcomed the addition of a few appendices - a glossary would be most helpful for example: although most legal terms are explained, the more prosaic phrases/words tend to be simply incorporated, and whilst their meaning is usually obvious, it would be nice to be able to access definitions (but perhaps I'm being overly pedantic on that point, and the lack of a glossary in no way detracted from my enjoyment.) I recommend this series to all lovers of historical fiction - you will not be disappointed!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy An Unholy Alliance by Susanna Gregory.

Buy Michaelmas Tribute (Burren Mysteries) by Cora Harrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Michaelmas Tribute (Burren Mysteries) by Cora Harrison at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Michaelmas Tribute (Burren Mysteries) by Cora Harrison at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Michaelmas Tribute (Burren Mysteries) by Cora Harrison at Amazon.com.

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