From Publishers Weekly
In Harrison's captivating second mystery set in the 16th-century kingdom of the Burren in western Ireland (after 2007's My Lady Judge
), the murder of an arrogant steward, Ragnall MacNamara, leaves a wide field of suspects, as does the suspicious death of another surly citizen. The learned Mara, the sole woman Brehon (or judge) in Ireland, is responsible for all crimes on the Burren as well as for deciding such delicate questions as inheritances and even, in certain circumstances, approval of a marriage proposal. Harrison depicts the intricacies of Irish law so clearly and marries them to her plot so adroitly that despite their unfamiliarity they are easily understood. Engaging characters from the honorable King Turlough Donn O'Brien to Mara's eager law students add to the pleasure. Mara's quest to solve the murders and to restore peace to the people of the Burren makes for compelling reading. (Sept.)
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What seems an axiomatic title isn’t really: in the kingdom of Burren on the west coast of Ireland in 1509, the law is clear that only an unacknowledged killing is “secret and unlawful.” And thus is designated the death of Ragnall McNamara, a tax-collecting clan steward (widely disliked for overcharging) whose body is found with purse missing. When, days later, Aengus McNamara is found dead at his mill, Mara, the Brehon (judge) of Burren, suspects the two murders are linked and finds evidence pointing to Ragnall’s daughter’s suitor from another clan. Introduced in My Lady Judge (2007), Mara, a 36-year-old divorced grandmother appointed Brehon 15 years earlier, tasks the six boys studying at her law school with gathering information to help build her case. At the same time, she ponders the marriage proposal from King Turlough Donn O’Brien and the suitability of her dear friend and neighbor, Diarmuid, as a husband. However, the thoughtful balancing of Mara’s roles as woman and judge seems hastily tipped at the end, the only false note in another well-researched, appealing historical mystery. --Michele Leber