"Above all, do no harm." Physicians through the ages, including those in sixteenth century Ireland, have made that promise to those they serve. For that reason, they have been given the esteem and respect of the community. But when a physician forgets his first priority and seeks after riches and wealth, to the detriment of his patients, to whom does he answer? Who can call him to account or punish him for his wrong actions? Someone has done just that in the Burren, poisoning the corrupt physician Malachy and causing him a horrific death. Though Mara, Brehon of the Burren, knows that Malachy deserved punishment, she also knows that his secret and unlawful killing must not be allowed to go unpunished. So many people had a motive for wanting him dead, though. His own daughter, Nuala, whom he denied the rights of education and attempted to deprive of her inheritance. His new wife, who believes that she'll inherit his land and practice. The local wolfmaster whose closest pet was brutally killed by Malachy's hand. The tenants and landholders who suffered as a result of his mistreatment. Any of them had the means and opportunity to slip something into his cup, but who was angry enough to do it? Though she's only recently risen from her near-death experience giving birth and is struggling with feelings of inadequacy as a mother, Mara dedicates herself and her students at the law school to solving the murder and clearing Malachy's daughter of suspicion. Beset with worries about her husband the king, who is away at battle with the Earl of Kildare, and over the recent failure of two of her students, Mara finds the case challenging to deal with and must work hard to overcome the distractions and find the murderer before he strikes again.
Cora Harrison transports us to the beautiful land of the Burren, writing with such vivid descriptions that it's easy to picture Mara's surroundings and world. She provides a wealth of historical detail, including excerpts of ancient Brehon law at the beginning of each chapter, creating a perfect background for her intricate plot and well-drawn characters. The book stands above many of the others in the series for its wonderful depiction of Mara's torn feelings between her responsibilities as a mother and those she holds as Brehon of the Burren. How similar is her position to today's working mom! The mystery is, as usual, wonderfully complex with a variety of suspects and a very surprising (to this reader, at least) conclusion. I heartily enjoyed the book and continue to recommend this series highly.
My favorite quote was one excerpt from the Brehon code: "It is one of the great tenets of Brehon law that a woman's right to have a baby is a solute. She may even leave her husband, if he is unable to give her that baby, go to another man to become pregnant and then return to her husband - and no reproach may be made." What a vastly different interpretation from today's take on a woman's right to choose!