Cora Harrison
Cora Harrison

Cora Harrison

Mullaghmore mountain on the Burren, County Clare, Ireland

My Lady Judge, paperback edition

Michaelmas Tribute

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The Burren mysteries

Sting of Justice

Reviews of Cora Harrison's Sting of Justice (the third Burren mystery)

Published by Pan Macmillan May 2009


Publishers Weekly starred review:

Harrison's stellar third novel set in the Irish kingdom of Burren (after 2008's 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 mine.

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 desserts.

Mara, however, is compelled to delve more deeply into his bizarre demise.

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 medieval Europe.

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 best.

Harriet Klausner

Books Well Read

September 2009

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 touch.

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 heir.

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 intriguing whodunit.




The bookbagHaving 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 Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you really should read Michaelmas Tribute.




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 steps. 

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 to comment... 

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.




Reviews of Cora Harrison's 'My Lady Judge'

Reviews of Cora Harrison's 'Michaelmas Tribute'

Reviews of Cora Harrison's children's books