Saturday, March 05, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Irish Historicals

Welcome to the beginning of a new series here on Kittling: Books that was inspired by calendars and holidays. In this day and age, every month and week has a topic to be aware of and almost every single day of the year has something (oftentimes wild and zany) to celebrate. "Self," I said, "why don't I use these themes and holidays to celebrate my favorite book genre?" Thus an idea was born and given a name: Celebrating Mysteries.

For the month of March, which is Irish-American Heritage Month, I'll be taking a look at mysteries that are either written by Irish authors, take place on the Emerald Isle, or feature Irish characters. It is my hope that you'll chime in with your own favorites along the way to help make it a more comprehensive list.

For this first installment, I'd like to bring four Irish historical mystery series to your attention. Let's get started, shall we?

The first series I'd like to talk about is called the Burren Mysteries and takes place in the early sixteenth century on the west coast of Ireland. The series feature Mara, a female judge and lawgiver, and currently numbers six books:

The books are written by Cora Harrison, who was born in County Cork, Ireland. She's well known for her children's books, including a series written in Gaelic and aimed at teens. Her Burren mystery series features a strong female character and a fascinating glimpse into Ireland's past. They're very enjoyable reads.

Here's a synopsis from the back of My Lady Judge:

Five hundred years ago, the western seaboard of Ireland was home to an independent kingdom that lived peacefully by the ancient Celtic laws of their forebears. On the first eve of a festive celebration, all the people of the land headed up Mullaghmore Mountain to light a bonfire. But one man—assistant to Mara, the King’s appointed judge and lawgiver—did not return. For two days he lay in the mountains being picked clean by ravens. And yet no one spoke of him or told what they had seen. Who killed him? Why? When Mara comes seeking answers to these questions, she discovers that more than just her own life may be in danger.

The second series on my list goes back an additional 900 years and stars Sister Fidelma, a seventh-century Celtic sister and legal advocate in Kildare. Written by Peter Tremayne, the son of a Cork-born journalist, the series now numbers twenty-one books and is a favorite of one of my best book buddies who loves strong mysteries, strong historical detail, and strong women.

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about the first in the series, Absolution by Murder:

An ecclesiastical conclave to settle major divisions between the Roman and Celtic branch of Christianity is held at Whitby in 664. When a major proponent of the Celtic way, the Abbess of Kildare, is murdered, Sister Fidelma, a fellow Celtic follower and legally trained scholar, is asked to investigate. She is paired with her ideological opposite, Brother Eadulf, on the Roman side, who is shrewd, highly educated and immediately smitten with the outspoken sister. The intellectual and physical sparks that are ignited between these two clerics (in an age before celibacy) light up the pages, and when two monks are killed and the malevolence thickens, the book becomes difficult to put down.

For my third historical mystery series, I'm jumping ahead several centuries to the eighteenth for Nancy Means Wright's Midnight Fires. There are only two books in the series--

The Nightmare (2011)

... but one can always hope for more about intrepid sleuth and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about Midnight Fires:

At the start of this captivating historical set in 1786, Mary Wollstonecraft is on her way to Ireland to become a governess, that most humiliating of occupations. At Mitchelstown Castle in County Cork, headstrong Mary, the future mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and future women's rights advocate, is determined to pen a novel and remain above the fray of castle politics while schooling Lord and Lady Kingsborough's daughters. Three suspicious deaths, however, compel Mary to seek justice for a poor young sailor, the family's troubled former governess, and even an aristocrat. It appears everyone from poet George Ogle, Lady K's new flirt, to a land tenant or two has a motive in one or more of these tangled deaths. As Mary snoops around in search of the culprit, she is bound not to lose herself to the mystery, her job, or the charms of any man.

So far, I've talked about three strong women who lived in Ireland's past. For my fourth pick of an historical mystery series, I'd like to spotlight Rhys Bowen and her Molly Murphy series.

It is the early twentieth century, and Molly Murphy has recently immigrated from Ireland to New York City. More than anything, Molly would like to be a private investigator, which isn't a run-of-the-mill wish for a woman of that time.

Bowen's series about the feisty Irish P.I.-to-be currently numbers ten:

If Molly has caught your eye, here's what Booklist had to say about the first book in the series, Murphy's Law:

Hiding her fiery red hair but not her audacious ways, Molly escapes from her Irish village after inadvertently causing the death of the young laird who tried to rape her. She finds herself in possession of a steerage ticket to New York and the custody of two small children when the kids' consumptive mother begs her to deliver the youngsters to their father in New York. The passage to America and the tumultuous events of Ellis Island, where another murder takes place, are vividly described, as is Molly's negotiation of the Cherry Street Irish ghetto, Hell's Kitchen, and the children's overwhelmed Da and his unsavory relatives. Run-ins with the police and Tammany Hall are only a few of Molly's adventures. The murder is solved in unorthodox ways, Molly finds love and work, and there's promise of more adventures. History-mystery fans should add Molly to their lists of characters to follow.

We've come to the end of my favorites for Irish historical mystery series. Are any of them your favorites as well? Which ones? Did I miss any? If I did, you know you have to tell me so I can check them out! Did I mention one or two that are unfamiliar and piqued your interest? I hope so!

You may also have noticed that all the series featured strong women characters. Is that to be a recurring theme of Celebrating Irish mysteries month? You can bet... that it's absolutely NOT!

Join me next Saturday when Celebrating Irish Mysteries will continue with a look at some very special private investigators!


  1. Cathy - What a terrific idea for a series! Thank you for doing this. I'm glad you mentioned Sister Fidelma in this, and Molly Murphy. Both are good series! I look forward to next week :-).

  2. I've got My Lady Judge here waiting to be read and Absolution by Murder has been on my wishlist for a while (I've heard good things about the Sister Fidelma series!). I really need to get to them soon.

  3. Margot-- I'm glad you enjoyed the inaugural post in my new series!

    Katy-- My Lady Judge is very good, so I hope you pick it up soon!

  4. Have fun with this - your book choices look so good!

  5. I haven't read any of these series..but they all sound really good.

    I'm trying to think of series to recommend, but the only ones I can think of aren't mysteries..and they are ones recommended to me that I haven't read yet myself. lol

  6. Sheila-- Thank you!

    Kris-- I appreciate the effort, though! :)


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