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Eye of the Law by Cora Harrison

Eye of the Law” is one of the most interesting Historical mysteries I’ve read in a long time.  The plot is set in Ireland of 1510 in the western district of Burren.  The Brehon of Burren, Mara, the wife of  King Turlough of Burren, Thomond, and Cormomroe.  Mara runs a law school and has six young male scholars.  She also is guiding one of the young women of the area, Nuala, the daughter of a local physician.  Nuala is learning to be a doctor like her father, but her father is troubled because he is about to marry a woman from Galway who wants one of her sons to become apprenticed to the doctor.  Among her duties, the Brehon serves as the district judge, and also, with the help of her young law students, investigates crimes so that she can sit in judgment knowing the facts.  One of the things making Mara’s work a little more difficult is that she is several months pregnant with Turlough’s child.  Still, she manages to get around quite well for someone in her condition, and her pregnant state as certainly not clouded her judgment.

Throughout the book each chapter gives rules, adages or laws from ancient Irish tradition.  It is these traditions and laws that the Brehon uses to base her judgment.  Unlike English law, murder is resolved through heavy fines, not by killing the guilty party.  One might hope that this would encourage more people to be truthful when accused of a crime.  Unfortunately, people tend to guard their riches even more carefully than their lives.

The plot involves a young man from the Isle of Aran who arrives in Burren to name the most wealthy man in the area, Ardal O’Lachlainn, his father.  His mother had named Ardal upon her deathbed.  Accompanying the young man, Iarla, is his uncle, Becon, the blacksmith from Aran.  Apparently, 20 years earlier Ardal, Turlough and Turlough’s brother, Teige, had gone to Aran.  Ardal admitted to having a dalliance with Iarla’s mother during that visit.  Initially, the Brehon is to gather the facts and rule on whether Ardal is indeed to be declared the father and therefore Iarla the heir to Ardal’s fortune.  However, things turn even more serious when Iarla is found dead outside a cave with one eye stabbed out.  The cave is reputed to be the home of a fierce god named Balor.  The mystery the Brehon and her students must solve becomes who killed this young man.

Eye of the Law” is well-researched by Burren native Cora Harrison.  I suspect it was unusual in those days for a woman to become a judge, but obviously not unheard of.  The details of Irish law and customs are fascinating.  The book reads almost as if it were being recited by a bard around a fire and is full of tense and dramatic moments.

Highly recommended.

Liz Nichols

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