A Mass for the Dead

Written by Susan McDuffie
Review by Ilysa Magnus

In McDuffie’s first mystery, set in Scotland in 1373, the author looks deep into the glass of her own ancestry to find a prior’s killer.

Crispinus is dead – strangled and battered with his mouth stuffed with sand. Head of the priory at Oronsay, Crispinus has been a man of power, a man who has used that power to manipulate people. The Lord of the Isles assigns Muirteach, the Prior’s bastard son and scribe to his uncle, the island’s chieftain, to uncover the murderer.

Muirteach is an interesting fellow. He lives in a miserable hut with his mangy dog and a fellow who helps him. He has little to eat and whatever money he has, he spends on drink. To say he is bitter is putting it mildly. During the investigation, however, Muirteach is confronted with himself, and with people who believe in him and his mission. He also begins to understand the deceit and treachery which surrounds him in his small, closely-knit community. Naturally, Muirteach uncovers the blackguard and all is well in Oronsay.

While McDuffie creates a believable atmosphere and characters, she tries too hard. The language, filled to the brim with the English equivalent of Scottish vernacular and clichés, is a distraction. I found myself becoming bored and wanting Muirteach to find the killer and have it done with.