THE CELTIC RIDDLE
By: Lyn Hamilton
Berkley Publishing Group, New York
I am writing this review from the cozy
confines of An Café Liteartha, a combination café/Irish
bookstore in the town of Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland.
I note this at the outset, note as a place-name dropper nor as a
segue into a shameless promotion for MVAC Director Jim Gallagher’s
absolutely fantastic walking
tour of the Dingle Peninsula—a tour of which I’ve been fortunate
enough to be a part. No,
the reason I mention this is that Lyn Hamilton’s fourth volume in her
Lara McLintoch series (the most recent volume, African Quest, was
reviewed here several months ago) takes place in the Dingle Peninsula.
As in her earlier archaeological mysteries, The Celtic Riddle
combines a thorny plot with vivid characterization and a wonderful sense
An Irish industrialist, Eamon Byrne, has
died of apparently natural causes, and in his last will and testament,
he has left a portion of his estate to Alex Stewart, retired friend of
antiques dealer and series heroine, Lara McLintoch.
The balance of the estate is parceled out to Eamon’s
dysfunctional family members, which include three daughters, two
insufferable sons-in-law, and a shrewish wife.
In his last days, Eamon had concocted a treasure hunt riddle that
he hoped would force the members of his feuding family to work together
in common cause to find the treasure and once again bring harmony back
to those he loved. The
riddle is based on the “Song of Amairgen,” a piece of early Celtic
poetry ascribed to a Merlin-like figure in Irish mythology.
Our tour group learned of Amairgen, who championed the Celts in
their struggles with the Tuatha de Danaan, the people who lived on Irish
soil prior to the Celtic “invasion,” and his song, from Amantha
Murphy, a storyteller who joined us for an evening and a day as we
explored the eastern stretches of the Dingle Peninsula—Oops! Another
shameless promotion of the Gallagher tour!
As the treasure hunt begins, the bodies
begin to pile up—but they are not those of Eamon’s family, the most
likely victims in a “cozy” murder mystery like this.
Lara steps in to investigate because she fears that her friend
Alex may be the next victim.
As I hinted earlier, the mystery is an
engaging one, with an appropriately surprising denouement.
But Lyn Hamilton’s vivid descriptions of the breathtaking
Dingle Peninsula landscape and its inhabitants are very evocative, and I
quote here a brief passage describing Lara’s search of the Dingle
countryside—a description that I can assure the reader is very, very
The Dingle is a peninsula only about
thirty miles long, and is often described
as a finger that juts out into the sea, the farthest point west
in Ireland. To me,
though, the Dingle is not so much of a finger jutting out from
a hand, but a primordial
creature, mountains for its spine, its undulating torso slipping
into the sea so that only the tip can be seen as the Blaskett
Islands off shore, its head way
down in the depths. In
reality, it has four mountain areas, the
Slieve Mish Mountains where the finger joins the hand, as it
were, the Strad-bally Mountains, Mount Brandon on the north side, and
Mount Eagle to the southwest.
In between are fabulously beautiful but isolated valleys, rocky
gorges, and breathtaking vistas.
Roads through the mountain passes rise
up steep inclines, then drop precipitously to the coast, where
there are dozens of little towns
and hundreds of ancient sites. (p.136).