Brehon Mara O’Davoren, judge and scholar, solves her third mystery in the west of Ireland in 1509.
Sixteenth-century Irish law is surprisingly egalitarian and complex, governing all aspects of life from marriage and inheritance to the keeping of bees. Brehon Mara (A Secret and Unlawful Killing, 2008, etc.) has the task of ruling on and enforcing those laws for the communities of the Burren. English law applies as well to outsiders like Welshman Sorley Skerrett, whose dangerous silver mine has made him the richest and least popular man in the kingdom. When a man so ostentatious and disagreeable drops dead, Mara is suspicious, even though he died of bee stings. Who knew the silversmith reacted so badly to bees? And who could have pushed the fatal hive onto him? Plenty of people have motives: Una, his daughter and presumptive heir; Rory, her lazy but ambitious fiancé; Deirdre, Sorley’s estranged wife; Cuan, his seemingly simple son; Daire, his cheated apprentice; and Sheedy, whose farm abuts Sorley’s mine and whose cows are dying from its effects. With the help of her spirited young legal students, Mara inquires into Sorley’s death, matchmaking and setting old grievances right as she goes, bringing harmony to the Burren, a land of deep green grasses and hazy mountains as patchily purple as Harrison’s prose.
Even so, the puzzle is enjoyable, providing intriguing insight into medieval Irish justice.