Thursday, April 16, 2015

Condemned to Death by Cora Harrison

First Sentence:  The body of the man in the boat with no oars had been washed up on to the orange sands of the beach of Fanore.
      
As Brehon of the Burren and the one who dispenses justice, Mara knows of the punishment for kin-murder, but never seen someone who has been set to sea in a boat without either sail or oars.  Now just such a boat had turned up.  No one in the small fishing community admits to knowing who the victim is, but Mara, with the help of her law students, doesn’t believe them, or that he washed ashore from another location.
      
Each chapter heading introduces readers to an element of Brehon Law.  It is not only fascinating, but almost makes one long for such a practical system.  Additionally, within the story, it is interesting how Mara considers that a change is needed to the Brehon laws in order to reflect the changing times.
      
Harrison paints wonderfully descriptive pictures giving us a strong sense of place.  She is also very good at using weather and, in this case, the sea, as an additional character in the story.  There is also a very good reminder as to how brief is life and how “Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.” 

Don't, however, mistake this for a book with a religious subtext.  It is more a lesson in the cost of man’s greed.  Still, she does make reference of the shift from the old faith to the “new,” “The priests were trying to call the first of February St. Brigid’s Day, but on the Burren it was still known as Imbolc and was one of the four great festivals in the Celtic calendar."
      
Harrison’s style does become a bit repetitive in the details giving one the feeling she fears readers might forget something previously told to them.  There is also an issue of flow and pacing as the story seems rather to meander along until the final quarter of the story when it becomes exciting and intense.  It would be nice where there a bit more consistency throughout.

Condemned to Death” contains very vivid characters, and a lesson in humility and priorities brought to bear in a devastating climax.  

CONDEMNED TO DEATH (Hist Mys-Mara-Ireland-16th Century) – Good
Harrison, Cora – 12th book in series
Severn House / First World Publication – Feb 2015

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