Two linked murders pose a pretty problem for the Brehon of the kingdom of Burren, in 16th-century western Ireland.
Mara, a Brehon judge who runs a school of law, is the beloved of King Turlough Donn, whose marriage proposal she has yet to answer. When Ragnall, the clan MacNamara’s Steward, is found murdered in a churchyard, it’s Mara’s duty to discover who killed him and claim the murder price. Ragnall had recently collected a greatly increased and unpopular Michaelmas tribute for his lord, Garrett MacNamara, a man feverishly seeking more money to support the spending habits of his new wife. After Aengus the miller follows Ragnall into eternity, there is no dearth of suspects for both crimes, including the highborn Donal O’Brien, who’s in love with Ragnall’s daughter, and Aengus’s bastard sons. Carefully questioning the many witnesses, Mara winkles out bits of information. As the King presses her to marry him, he must deal with the grave illness of his older son and the problem of his younger, who’s become so closely involved with the English that the clans will not accept him as a future leader. Mara makes several momentous and unpleasant discoveries on her road to a just verdict.
Mara’s second (My Lady Judge, 2007, etc.) features well-drawn characters, a tantalizing mystery and an intriguing look at the surprisingly complex and liberal laws of 1509 Ireland.