Publishers Weekly starred review:
Harrison's stellar third novel set in the Irish kingdom of Burren
A Secret and Unlawful Killing)
blends a fair-play murder puzzle with a convincing portrayal of
early 16th-century Ireland. Series heroine Mara, the region's
brehon (or judge), is responsible for maintaining law and order
and for running the local law school.
While attending the funeral
mass for a beloved local priest, Mara discovers the body of Sorley
Skerrett, one of the richest men in the area, who owns a silver
Skerrett, who was allergic to bee stings, died as a result
of being stung by a swarm of the insects. Despite appearances,
Mara believes the death was a homicide and enlists her eager
students to aid her in interviewing the many suspects, who include
the victim's ex-wife, the son he disinherited and others wronged
by his unscrupulous business dealings.
Ellis Peters and Peter Tremayne fans who have yet to discover Harrison will be overjoyed.
Review in Booklist
Brehon Mara returns in another medieval mystery set amid the
barren wilds of western Ireland. Although opportunities for
educated females outside of the convent were scarce during the
Middle Ages, fans of Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma mysteries
will be familiar with the concept of the female brehon/judge
in the medieval Irish courts.
Like Fidelma, Mara is an independent-minded advocate who will
not let time, circumstances, or gender stand in the way of solving
a crime and bringing a culprit to justice.
When a detested silversmith is stung to death by bees, most of
his acquaintances are content to believe he has met his just
Mara, however, is compelled to delve more deeply into his
This richly conceived and authentically detailed series of
historical whodunits fleshes out the surprisingly accurate notion
that Ireland was a quasi-feminist bastion in an otherwise backward
Genre Go Round Reviews
Saturday, October 17, 2009
In the Kingdom of Burren in western Ireland in the year 1509,
the land is rich with minerals especially silver washing out
of the mountain and free for anyone who sees it. That is until Sorley Skerrett the avaricious silversmith bought the land and
opened a silver mine. Over the decades that mine became a
festering sore spot on the once pristine mountainside. Now
affluent and influential, he is petty and spiteful with many
angry enemies who want to spit on his grave.
While sitting in a room in the church he attended, someone
crashes a hive through the window to the floor. Allergic to
the venom, Sorley dies immediately. Mara the Brehon of the
Burren rules it murder and she starts an investigation. She
finds many suspects as the victim was universally detested by
those he destroyed with his unethical business ventures.
Perhaps those who hate him more are those who had the
misfortune of being in his personal life like his ex wife.
Everyone had the opportunity as Mara finds she has a lot of
work ahead to sift through this case.
Although almost a millennia in the past, fans of Peter
Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma Ancient Irish mysteries will want to
read this terrific medieval whodunit as the legal system has
evolved from the seventh century to the sixteenth. Mara is
terrific as the only LADY JUDGE in Ireland looking into A
SECRET AND UNLAWFUL KILLING again. The support cast is three
dimensional as they bring time and place alive. The official
inquiry is well done as Mara slowly works her way to the
killer. Cora Harrison provides another strong historical
murder investigation as this series is one of the sub-genre’s
Books Well Read
Return to western Ireland in 1509 and visit the Burren. Mara
O'Davoreen "Lady Judge" or Brehon has another case of murder to
solve plus the issue of who inherits a silversmith's estate under
English or Irish Law, a disinherited son, a missing minstrel, a
madman, and a debt and her school of law students to manage and of
course the Irish Wolfhound Bran still jumping up on people!.
This is one of the most promising new Historical Mystery /
Murder series I have seen in recent years. Let this hope Harrison
continues the quality of the first three books!
Historical Novel Society
Mara, the Brehon judge, attends the funeral of a local
priest little expecting that his will not be the only dead
body in the church that day. Sorley Skerrett, silversmith and
local mine owner, has been stung to death by bees. Mara
becomes convinced that his death is no accident and is soon on
the murder’s trail.
Her efforts are hampered by the multitude of suspects
available, ranging from his wife, his son, and his daughter to
his apprentice. Even Mara’s own fiancé might be implicated in
the gruesome death. A man as unpleasant and as harsh an
employer as Sorley is bound to have hidden enemies, too, and
the innocent are relying on Mara to clear their names.
With her superb attention to detail, Cora Harrison brings
medieval Ireland into vivid life, being equally skilful at
portraying the good, the bad, and the ugly. Her research
appears impeccable and is always included using a lightness of
Mara is up there with the great fictional detectives. Her
formidable intellect is beautifully balanced by her humanity
and ability to empathise even with those she dislikes. She is
a creation to be proud of and one assured a long stay on my
bookshelves. --Sara Wilson
Historical crime set in sixteenth century Ireland
Third in Mara, Brehon of the Burren series set in sixteenth
century Ireland. A wealthy silversmith is found dead,
apparently from bee stings. Mara is not immediately convinced
and so sets about uncovering more information before making a
judgement call. The more she learns about the dead man and his
deeds, the more it becomes obvious that there is a vast number
of individuals who might benefit from his death – not least
the rather complex issue of who is his rightful and legal
Mara is a “safe” character: dependable, conscientious,
diplomatic, and poised. She runs a law school with 6 young law
scholars ranging in age and ability who assist her
investigation. Her position as ‘Brehon’ or Judge ensures a
certain degree of cooperation from locals and is noteworthy
enough being a female, but what really makes her character all
the more interesting is the fact that she is a divorced woman
of individual means, respectability and status. Mara is a
master of the art of conversation; drawing out tiny bits of
information from those around her in order to piece together
the truth. A more clear-headed, sound Judge you couldn’t wish
for and a wonderfully appealing character.
The Sting of Justice is historical crime; that oddity that
neither sits within historical nor crime fiction comfortably.
Evidently, it is an eclectic taste, which seems unfair – after
all, despite the unusual setting, it is refreshingly unlike
modern crime novels, using simple detective techniques and
common sense rather than DNA samples and forensic evidence.
Each chapter is prefaced with interesting ancient legal facts,
which, beyond being indubitably fascinating, are also
pertinent to the case at hand.
That Harrison is in thrall to this particular period of Irish
history is at once apparent; that she also has an acute sense
of pride and admiration for the west of Ireland is equally
obvious. Her fastidious attention to detail and keen
observational skills are a credit to her writing. She has
created a memorable cast and an alluring perception of Ireland
– and she is also exceptionally talented at crafting a
Having recently read and reviewed Cora Harrison's second
Burren mystery, it was with great excitement that I noticed
that Bookbag had the third in the series available to review!
I had a strong suspicion that a treat was in store for me-and
I was not disappointed.
Once again, the author returns us to the tight knit
community of the Burren, in 16th century Ireland. A
wonderfully atmospheric location, peopled by very real and in
the main, loveable people (excepting the local rogues, of
course). One of the many things I enjoyed in the previous
books in the series, was the very tangible characters, who
bring the story to life, with their own particular brand of
goodwill and humour. Mara is simply a fabulous protagonist -
indeed, a good role model for the 21st century, with her
uncanny blend of professionalism, family values, and forward
thinking. King Turlough, to whom she is engaged, is another
superb creation - already in my eyes beginning to rival Diana
Gabaldon's Jamie from The Crosstitch series, as a very
admirable hunk. The potential that this relationship affords
the series cannot be underestimated, and I look forward to
their forthcoming marriage and life together.
A wide array of characters people the novel, and the
relationships between them all is well documented, and gives
interesting insights into potential motives for the suspected
crime. However, over and above the necessity to have
motivations exposed, the real strength of the novel is its
gentle but in depth awareness of the characters, their fears
and foibles, their hopes and dreams. The balance is
beautifully struck between crime novel and historical novel,
and is all the richer and more flowing for this. As in
previous novels, the scholars in Mara's law school lend a
fabulous flavour of youth - the Famous Five of the 16th
century! Having said that, their contributions to solving the
crime are vital, so don't underestimate the role the scholars
play in the denouement of the plot - they do far more than
offering an amusing glimpse into the schooling of the time.
The plot in itself is very clever, and had me guessing
virtually to the final chapter. Early on I had an inkling as
to what had happened and why - but once again the author
offers several red herrings for us to chase… and alas, my
sleuthing was faulty in the extreme! Whilst the victim was a
most unpleasant character, somehow the author manages to
enable the reader to feel a certain compassion for him -
despicable he may have been, but we are left wondering how and
why he became quite so unpleasant. I feel the author's ability
to portray different and complex aspects to her characters'
personalities, is a great strength, and lifts her work far
above the murder/mystery genre.
Once again, the local countryside is beautifully presented
- evocative and picturesque descriptions, threatening and
hostile landscapes - Cora Harrison is equally competent at
handling both. The scenes on the mountainside whilst the
rescue was underway, were simply stunning, and enabled me to
picture the scene very clearly - a difficult thing for many
authors, but one at which this one excels.
I feel that I learned a lot from this book about the local
customs and culture, and find myself increasingly intrigued by
the tenets of the Brehon law. Harrison gives quite a lot of
detail, at times comparing and contrasting to the equivalent
English laws of the time, and this attention to detail adds
another layer to this multi faceted book. Without doubt, this
very talented author has found a winning formula, and I
imagine that she will very soon have a large following eagerly
awaiting the next instalment - with myself at the front of the
queue, of course!
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The
If this book appeals then you really should read Michaelmas
It’s harvest time on the Burren, and the people are enjoying a
beautiful, sunny October. The only sad thing to mar this rural
idyll appears to be the funeral of the much-loved Father David,
but after the service a corpse is found lying on the church
It is unpopular Sorley Skerrett, wealthy silver mine owner,
moneylender and merchant, and he has been stung to death by
bees. The skeps belonging to the local beekeeper were nearby, and
Sorley was allergic to their stings.
Somebody knew this and stirred up the bees—but there are so
many people who hated the dead man that Brehon Mara will need all
her legal skills to discover the murderer.
How I do enjoy a whodunit with a proper mystery to unravel,
complete with hordes of suspects, dark secrets to uncover and a
fishmongers' full of red herrings. As for the historical side I
confess to ignorance about life in early 16th century Ireland, and
the only knowledge I have of their laws mainly comes from the
Peter Tremayne’s books and the first two novels in this series.
Reading these books is like stepping into a warm bath, and fans
of cozy crime novels will love such a relaxing, gentle story
replete with plot and (mainly) loveable characters. At times it
all seems a bit too idyllic, especially considering what we know
about life in England at that time but I don’t really know enough
Settle back and enjoy a jolly good story because whatever else
you can say about this book, it certainly contains one of those.
Agatha Christie in 16th century Ireland is a good description.