Celtic Knot: A Clara Swift Tale

Written by Ann Shortell
Review by Patricia O'Reilly

Celtic Knot is a story of hope, heroes, loyalty and patriotism, as seen through the eyes of 15-year-old serving girl Clara Swift, a bright, engaging character.

The focus is on the impact of a true event at a turning point in Canada’s political history — the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a prominent political figure during the early days of the Canadian Confederation. Clara is employed by McGee, an Irish immigrant. McGee founded a British colony in Canada where, unusually for the time, Catholics enjoyed equal rights, but he soon came to the attention of Fenian rebels.

Clara is the fictional creation of author Ann Shortell—and a perfect foil. While the assassination is the core story, Clara’s sleuthing in the matter of a missing manuscript simmers away beneath the surface.

Celtic Knot is a lively mixture of historical fact and literary drama, peopled with well-rounded characters and details of the time, such as leather cigar cases, sharp-nibbed pens, and lintel stones carved as a line of shamrocks.

Impeccably researched and elegantly written in polished prose, with an all-pervading sense of place that captures the Canadian ethos of the late 1880s, this novel reached the finals in the Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Crime Manuscript.

The story remains one of the great murder mysteries in Canadian history.