Tag Archives: Ireland

As Death Draws Near

As Death Draws Near

Title:                                    As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby 5)
Author:                               Anna Lee Huber
Publisher:                           Penguin
Publication Date:              2016
ISBN:                                   978-0-425-27772-0

Book Summary:
While relaxing on their idyllic honeymoon in the Lake District, Kiera and Gage’s bliss is interrupted when they receive a missive from Lord Gage, forcefully requesting their assistance with the murder of a nun at an abbey in the village of Rathfarnham in Ireland.  Not appreciating his father’s high-handedness, Kiera and Gage reluctantly agree to make the journey to Ireland; partly because of the heinous nature of the crime and partly due to the fact that the murdered nun was a cousin of the Duke of Wellington.  Kiera and Gage, along with their servants Bree and Anderley, travel across the rough waters, and along the way, they run into an old acquaintance.

When they arrive at Lorreto Abbey, the identity of the killer seems elusive, and many factors interfere with their ability to find out the truth.  The local constabulary isn’t totally honest about their loyalties or their knowledge of the crime; the nuns at the abbey and some of their day school students are reticent to confide in Gage and Kiera; and the political and religious conflict between the Ribbonmen and Orangemen is boiling just under the surface.

Kiera and Gage are frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation but when masked men threaten them and another nun is found murdered, the threat strikes even closer to the newlyweds.  As more details and secrets come to light, Kiera and Gage find themselves embroiled in a conflict from which they must fight to escape.

Book Commentary:
I absolutely love the Lady Darby series and this newest installment does not disappoint!  The author has done a fabulous job at maintaining the dynamics and struggles of the two main characters – Kiera and Gage – while adding the new dimension of their marriage. Both are so fiercely independent and yet insecure; they each want to be their own person but need each other to do so. I love how they truly respect and appreciate each other’s intelligence. With that intelligence, there has be a bit of banter and accountability. They hold each other responsible for their thoughts and words.  They are also trying to figure out how to make marriage and their investigations meld into a meaningful and acceptable way.

The book also took a bit of departure from the previous novels in that the crime committed did not have any direct relationship to Kiera or Gage; they are investigating because they are good at it and not because they have a personal stake.  Of course, as the story progress, the reader realizes, perhaps even before the characters do, that they do take their investigations personally and through their inquiry and examination of the crime, they are also discovering more about themselves, their values, their commitment, and their future.

I found the history of the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics, and both the Irish and English perspectives, fascinating and also a bit depressing.  In some ways, so many attitudes haven’t changed in 175 years.  The author does a fantastic job at blending the fact into the story in a meaningful and understandable way; history helps the story along but doesn’t overshadow the character or plot development.  Old grudges and prejudices are revealed to the characters and the reader is able to process the facts and fiction along with Kiera and Gage.

We also see a great deal of growth in Kiera herself as she struggles with the useful, although not her choice to receive, knowledge of anatomy. With Gage, she sees what a marriage and relationship should look like and yet still struggles to put aside or come to terms with her past.  I think her personal growth and self-awareness really adds to the psychological depth of the crime analysis.  I look forward to watching her not just “come into her own,” but to accept and actually embrace it as well.

Who might like this book:
If you like a good, well-plotted historical mystery series that puts character development first, read this series.  Some of my other favorite authors – Deanna Raybourn, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Victoria Thompson, Carol K. Carr – have all written endorsements for this unique heroine and I couldn’t agree more!  I anxiously await the next story in this fantastic series.

As always, don’t ruin the story by starting in the middle.  Read the series in order.  You will thank me.

The Anatomist’s Wife
Mortal Arts
A Grave Matter
A Study in Death
A Pressing Engagement (an eNovella)
As Death Draws Near

 

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A Turn for the Bad

A Turn for the Bad

Title:  A Turn for the Bad (County Cork Mystery 4)
Author:  Sheila Connolly
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-425-27342-5

Book Summary:
Local farmer John Tully went out for an evening walk with his young son Eoin.  Hours later when he didn’t return, his wife asked his brother Conor to look for him.  Conor finds Eoin cold, alone, and scared but otherwise unharmed on the beach but there is no sign of his father.  Local gardai and the Irish Coast Guard, friends and neighbors search the Cork coast but there is no sign of John.  Then, a few days later, a body washes up on the shore.  As the news quickly spreads, there is a surprise discovery: the dead man is a stranger.

After the death of her grandmother, Maura Donovan headed to Ireland and discovered that she had inherited Sullivan’s Pub in a small tight-knit Irish community.  After seven months, she is still struggling to get her bearings on understanding the intricacies of the local customs, on dispensing of news and keeping community secrets, and on working the heating system in her home.  As the pub becomes a meeting place to share news and comfort, Maura senses the undertone that there is more going on with John’s disappearance than is said.

Local gardai and Maura’s friend Sean asks her to keep her ears and eyes open.  The Garda Siochana, the Irish Navy and Customs, and the National Crime Agency are all working together on something big; rumors of drug smuggling along the coast are keeping them focused but Maura is concerned that John’s disappearance may be unduly linked with the operation.  Concern for John and his family overwhelm Maura’s sense of justice and she may be forced to choose between what is right and what is lawful.

Book Commentary:
Sheila Connolly has three different book series that I follow.  This is the fourth book in the County Cork series and it is a well-structured cozy mystery.  As you know, one of my biggest pet peeves is the plausibility of reoccurring crimes and murders in an unrealistic place.  Connelly has done a great job with this series as Maura is the bar keep of a pub that serves as the lifeblood to this small Irish community.  Residents stop in daily for a pint before they head home from work and it becomes a place for the exchange of news, gossip, and information.

The cast of characters aren’t cartoony as is often found in stories written about certain locales.  Billy is a great character who has lived in the town forever and provides a lot of stories and backgrounds.  It is believable that Maura would seek out his insight and knowledge.  Maura’s employee Mick is personable and yet a bit full of the blarney.  I really like how the reader gets to observe the town and its residents through Maura’s eyes and learn about life in her new country as she does.  This story also featured a bit of history about Irish whiskey which was also quite interesting!

Who might like this book:
If you like mysteries set in Ireland, this series has a lot of character.  I also would highly suggest Sheila Connolly’s Orchard Mysteries and Museum Mysteries.  The County Cork Mysteries in order are:

Buried in a Bog
Scandal in Skibbereen
An Early Wake
A Turn for the Bad

Lake of Sorrows

lake-of-sorrows

Title:  Lake of Sorrows (Nora Gavin Book 2)
Author:  Erin Hart
Publisher:  Scribner
Publication Date:  2004
ISBN:  978-1-4165-4130-1

Book Summary:
Pathologist Nora Gavin comes to the Irish midlands when a well-preserved body is discovered in the bog.  The man’s remains indicate that he was the victim of an ancient pagan sacrifice because of multiple wounds on his body; the Triple Death is evident by his strangulation, the slit of his throat, and the spikes driven into his arms. Also working the site is Ursula Downes who seems antagonistic towards everyone and happens to have had a former relationship with Nora’s boyfriend, Cormac Maguire.  When a second body is found in the bog with similar Triple Death markings, the research team is excited but then horrified.  This body can’t be ancient because of the wristwatch on the victim’s arm.

Cormac Maquire also arrives on the scene; he recently inherited a cottage located close to the excavation site from an old friend.  It provides Nora a place to stay and give Cormac and Nora an opportunity to work on their relationship.  Nora’s sister was brutually murdered five years ago and the killer was never found; Nora still struggles with finding the clues that will put the killer behind bars.

Detective Liam Ward struggles with the case as it brings back memories of his own wife’s suicide.  Owen Cadogan, the site manager, is angry about Ursula’s rejection of him after a relationship the previous year.  Charlie Brazil, a local beekeeper, is haunted by his uncle’s disappearance and his father’s ailing health; he is also a local pariah because of his eccentric behavior.

With all the secrets and mysteries of the players, an aura of both violence and desire pervades the excavation site.  When new body is discovered, not in the bog but in a bathtub, accusations and tempers fly.  Cautiously Nora and Cormac must work to find the answers to all the deaths before the body count rises again.

Book Commentary:
This is the second Nora Gavin book I have read and I enjoyed it just was much as the first one.  The author does a fabulous job at blending ancient deaths and modern deaths.  She shows how the motivations for murder really haven’t changed over the course of centuries.  I love the psychological analysis and the varying characters’ viewpoints as she plots through the story.  So often secondary characters are there just to support the main characters.  Hart develops her secondary characters in such a way that the reader feels that they could have a story of their own.

Underlying the entire story is the relationship between Nora and Cormac.  I really found that I enjoyed these two characters even more with the second book and I am really rooting for their success.  As an outside observer, the reader can see the fragile balance of each of their own demons and their shaky, but meaningful, relationship.  I really, really hope they make it!

Once again, the second book in the series plays on the idea of a modern day gothic mystery.  The blend of contemporary science and pathology with the atmospheric Irish countryside and customs of the ancient inhabitants of the land creates a mood of suspense and intrigue.  Although the series is classified as contemporary, it really has a timeless feel.

Who might like this book:
If you liked Erin Hart’s first book Haunted Ground, you are sure to like this one.  The characters are developing in both their personal and professional experiences while being involved in a completely new story.  I recommend reading the first book before this one if you haven’t already.

Haunted Ground

haunted-ground

Title:  Haunted Ground (Nora Gavin Book 1)
Author:  Erin Hart
Publisher:  Scribner
Publication Date:  2003
ISBN:  978-0-7432-7210-0

Book Summary:
A local farmer discovers a perfectly preserved head of a young woman with red hair as he is cutting turf in an Irish peat bog and the rest of her body is nowhere to be found.  Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin are invited to the scene to preserve the evidence.  Because of the acidic bog environment, it is difficult to say how old the head is – two years or two centuries.  Nora and Cormac work together to discover who the young woman was and how her head wound up in the bog; was it murder or execution and why.  But, it is not just the red-headed woman whose mystery needs to be solved in this remote part of Galway.  Two years earlier, the wife and young son of Hugh Osbourne, a local landowner, vanished without a trace.

When Nora and Cormac are invited to Hugo’s estate, Bracklyn House, to make an archaeological survey of his land in preparation for creating a workshop that will demonstrate and sell traditional crafts, they are able to see Bracklyn’s inhabitants in close quarters.  Hugo’s cousin and son live in the house; the mother and son seem to each be hiding from their past and are antagonistic toward the visitors.  Brendan McGann, the peat farmer who discovered the severed head, and his brother, sister, and niece all seem to be fighting demons of their own.

When vandalism and threats arise, Detective Garrett Devaney defies orders from higher up and combines his investigation of the severed head with the Hugh Osbourne’s missing family.  Nora and Cormac become involved in both investigations as their archaeological findings produce evidence for both mysteries.  As they keep searching, their discoveries and inquiries begin to unravel the secrets of the bog, both its immediate and ancient past.

Book Commentary:
This was an amazing gothic mystery.  I loved how the author told the story of really three mysteries: the one of the red-headed woman, the one of Hugh Osbourne’s missing family, and the one of the lives of the current residents of Bracklyn House and its surrounding town.  The interweaving of the stories told all in present time was a different style that many mysteries that involve the past and present, and I really liked how it kept all the action and intrigue engaging and fresh.  The story is steeped in history and atmosphere but is offered in a very modern presentation.  I loved the homage paid to Irish lore and music throughout the novel, and the author’s descriptions create a very suspense and haunting feel.

I especially liked the characters of Nora and Cormac.  The author presents knowledge of their occupations – archaeologist and pathologist – with great forensic detail; however, the terminology and procedures are blended so well with the plot line that the novel never feels too technical or overbearing.  The forensics add to the realism of the story and how the truth is believably discovered.  Nora and Cormac also have their own histories and ghosts from the past that are brilliantly interwoven in the plot line.  Their relationship builds on both a mutual attraction and an appreciation and drive for the truth.  They are quite likable and relatable characters.

I also enjoyed how the author began each section with a quotation from a seventeenth-century historical source and a description of conditions in Ireland during the Cromwellian resettlement.  It was fascinating to see the lasting impact of the historical events.  Excavation details and plot drawings also help the reader to visualize both the past and present locations in the story.

Who might like this book:
There are a number of factors that would draw readers to this book.  The wealth of Irish history and atmosphere create an engaging setting for the mystery; I felt like I could almost smell the peat burning and feel the mist on my face as I read.  For mystery readers who enjoy a bit more forensics and detective work than is found in cozy mysteries, this book provides a multi-layered story where there is more than one mystery to be solved.  Finally, the gothic suspense of the story-telling style reminds me a bit of Simone St. James’ stories.  Haunted Ground relies more on the scientific function of detective work but creates an atmosphere where science and history and the unknown all collide and must work together to solve the puzzle.

I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading more.  When I discovered the series, I mistakenly purchased book 4 — don’t you hate when that happens — but am thrilled that I enjoyed the first one so much that I want to continue reading the rest. The author only releases books every few years and currently there are three more in the series:  Lake of Sorrows, False Mermaid, and The Book of Killowen.