Condemned to Death: A Burren Mystery

Cora Harrison. Severn, $28.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8442-8

Harrison has never been better than in her 12th historical starring Irish investigating magistrate and law school dean Mara (after 2014’s Verdict of the Court). Under Irish law in the 16th century, murdering a close relative is punished by setting the guilty party out to sea in a boat without oars. When a boat without oars containing the body of an unidentified man drifts onto the shore of the Kingdom of the Burren, the locals assume that the dead man must have been a kin-slayer. Mara’s oldest scholar, Domhnall, later tells her that he thinks he recognizes the corpse as that of a goldsmith from Galway, a city farther up the Atlantic coast that’s governed by English law, which punishes kin-slayers by hanging. Mara concludes that someone murdered the goldsmith and hoped to disguise the cause of death. As Mara’s sleuthing leads her to a clever and disturbing solution, Harrison seamlessly integrates law and social history (e.g., Mara notes that the emergence of the merchant profession obligates setting a legal penalty for killing one). Agent: Peter Buckman, Ampersand Agency (U.K.). (Feb.)