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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Intriguing!

Cross of Vengeance (A Burren Mystery) by Cora Harrison

In Ireland in the Middle Ages (1519) a Brehon was the Gaelic equivalent of a judge. The statutes that governed daily life in medieval Ireland were called Brehon Law.
Mara, Brehon of the kingdom of Burren, a magistrate and the professor (ollamh) at Cahermacnaghten law school, accompanied by her students, attends an important mass, the Feast of the Holy Cross, at Kilnaboy Church, home to a significant 'relic: a piece of the true cross...housed inside a gold shrine.' When the relic is destroyed or stolen the Brehon has a role to play.
Insights into the ancient laws of Ireland meander in and out of the storyline. I like the way each chapter opens with a quote from a relevant law, setting the scene for what is to come. The punishments for various crimes or abuses against the law is fascinating.  
Arson, theft, fanatics, heretics, pilgrims, dark passions, jealousy and avarice present.
Attitudes to Indulgences and Spanish inquisitors become part of the mystery.    
The effects of Martin Luther's 39 Articles has crossed from Europe to Ireland. Now, not only the loss of a holy relic is being investigated, but a murder must be investigated. The Brehon must solve both crimes.
The way Mara's students put forward their ideas and work together to form theories, points towards Mara's encouraging abilities as a teacher, reflecting the sort of person she is.
Mara's wry, unspoken humour at their inclusion of her in their discussions, their assumptions about her, is delightful. Such as in a discussion that included vellum making Slevin's hastens to instruct her about it's making. 'Mara smiled an acknowledgement. She liked the way boys of Slevin's age assumed she had little knowledge of practical matters.' All this points to the type of person she is. She has a quiet intelligence, is accepting and caring, and holds the authority of office with strength tempered by compassion. A velvet glove encasing a will of iron. The leadership of women as justices in Ireland in these times is eye opening.
Beautifully written, Harrison's descriptive prose of the land about as the Brehon travels are a delight. The mind's eye easily sees.
Mysterious, yet brimming with wise reflection, a captivating aspect of Harrison's writing style. Through Mara's eyes we see the burdens and joys of her office and a fascinating look at a regrettably overturneded legal system.

A NetGalley ARC


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