“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Irish Laws And Irish Ways

Cora Harrison is one of those writers who seems to slip under the Crime Always Radar, possibly because such new-fangled inventions don’t work for 16th Century novels set in the remote and beautiful Burren of County Clare. Anyway, Cora’s latest offering, SCALES OF RETRIBUTION, got a rather fine write-up from Publishers’ Weekly, which suggests we should be paying closer attention. To wit:
The threat of Henry VIII’s English army looms over Ireland in Harrison’s outstanding sixth historical featuring Mara, “the Brehon” (or judge) for her community of the Burren in the west of Ireland (after 2010’s EYE OF THE LAW). With her royal husband, King Turlough Donn, away battling the Earl of Kildare in Limerick, Mara survives a difficult pregnancy to deliver a premature but healthy boy. While Mara is still recovering from her ordeal, the unpopular local physician, Malachy, whose estranged 14-year-old daughter, Nuala, assisted in the birth of Mara’s son, dies of poisoning. The arrival of a young legal scholar who could handle the inquiry into Malachy’s death gives Mara the chance to step back and regain her strength, but she has misgivings about entrusting the peace of her people to a stranger. Few will anticipate the solution. Harrison combines meticulous period detail with a crafty puzzle and a sage, empathetic sleuth. (June)
  Meanwhile, and despite being busy collecting all kinds of awards for her Young Adult novels, Cora was kind enough to pen a few words marking her contribution to the DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS collection. It runs a lot like this:
“I’ve recently bought a Kindle from Amazon.com and like all new Kindle owners justify my frivolous and impulsive purchases by pointing out all the books which I have downloaded for free or for a few cents.
  “Last week I downloaded James Hardiman’s history of Galway for eighty cents – and despite the strange formatting, with footnotes appearing at random in the middle of sentences, it’s worth a hundred times that. Hardiman was the first librarian at Galway University College and like all good solid Victorians, he didn’t sit around playing the 19th century version of ‘Free Cell’ or ‘Chess Titans’, but in his spare time embarked on a history of his native city and a good, solid, exhaustive job he made of it too.
  “Some of it is dull, but a lot of it is surprisingly interesting and one keeps finding little gems, like the early sixteenth century quote in the title (NEITHER O NOR MAC SHALL STRUT NOR SWAGGER), showing that Galway had its troubles with rowdy behaviour even back in those late medieval times. And then there is the mind-boggling amount of wine imported into the port. Wine was Galway’s main import and ships brought in huge supplies – a single ship from Bordeaux brought in almost 28,000 gallons of wine one day in the early sixteenth century, which, given the tiny size of the city at the time, seems a lot even to a wine drinker like myself. Over fifty years ago, when I was a university student, I can remember the late-night drinking in Galway city and it seems that it was following in a long tradition.
  “In the early sixteenth century, the time of my crime novels, Galway city was ruled by the ‘law of the King and of the Emperor’ - in other words, common law, based on Roman law. The Burren, only twenty miles away and the location of my books, was ruled by Brehon, or early Irish law.
  “The main thing about Brehon law is that it was a law administered with the consensus of the people – in other words there were no prisons, no hangman, no birch, no treadmills. Brehon law was purely concerned with finding the truth and allocating a suitable compensation to the victim, or, in the case of murder, to the victim’s relatives. So a murder committed by a person living on the Burren in the early sixteenth century would have incurred a very large fine – so large that in most cases the clan would have been involved in paying it; whereas a murder committed in Galway would have meant
the death penalty.
  “This was so rigidly adhered to that, according to my friend James the industrious librarian of Galway University College, the mayor of Galway actually hanged his own son for the killing of a young Spaniard in a jealous rage over the Spaniard’s attentions to young Lynch’s girlfriend. The boy was popular in the city and most people believed it was just a young man’s quarrel that had gone wrong. Feelings ran so high that the hangman refused to do his duty, so the boy’s father did it for him.
  “My Mara, Brehon of the Burren, would have sorted that matter out with great tact and mercy.” - Cora Harrison

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