By Susan McDuffie
Muirteach MacPhee, the bastard son of the Prior of Oronsay, is the Keeper of the Records for the Lord of the Isles, and the sleuth in my medieval mystery series. The post of Keeper of the Records was a hereditary clan office. As a child I heard stories of this and the clan’s ancestral lands on Colonsay: it all sounded marvelously exotic and intriguing. In actual fact the Keeper of the Records might have been a fairly boring post—keeping track of legal agreements and such--but the idea fascinated me and one of the many virtues of fiction is its ability to turn drab reality into intriguing story! On a trip to Scotland I came across a little booklet, listing the clan chiefs of the MacPhees as well as the priors of Oronsay and their sons. From such little tidbits are born historical mystery series. A MASS FOR THE DEAD, the first Muirteach MacPhee mystery, is my story of how Muirteach solves his father’s murder and becomes the Keeper of the Records.
The second Muirteach mystery, THE FAERIE HILLS, evolved from two threads. Seeing the incredible Bronze Age gold on display at the National Museum of Ireland was the first. The second was Bridget Cleary case in 1890s Ireland. A man murdered his wife, convinced she was a fairy changeling. The killing was quickly discovered, dampening prospects for Irish home rule. After all, if the Irish still believed in fairies how could they be expected to govern themselves? The question seized me. If that were the mindset in 1890, what would the mindset have been five hundred years earlier, in the 1300s? THE FAERIE HILLS attempts to answer that question when a child’s disappearance is blamed on the fairy.
THE STUDY OF MURDER, went on sale yesterday (and is listed to pre-order at online booksellers). The Voynich manuscript sparked this story. This mysterious manuscript has never been deciphered despite attempts by many noted cryptographers. The encrypted text and strange drawings—some resemble plants, but not known species, some, astrological or cosmological drawings, while others depict frolicking nudes bathing in strange botanical tubes and vessels—piqued my imagination and Muirteach’s sojourn in Oxford was the end result.
The fourth Muirteach mystery, in progress and unnamed as yet, started with Henry Sinclair and his voyage to America in 1398, and some tie-in with the lost treasure of the Knights Templar. That led me to the lost Norse settlement in Greenland, the Kensington rune stone, the Newport tower and various other tangents, including gyrfalcons and the Oak Island mystery. The book takes place mainly in Edinburgh, at the courts of Robert II, the Lord of the Isles father-in-law, and one thing I can say about it to date is that the characters have very well developed back-stories! I’m having a wonderful time with it.
If anyone shares this love of research I invite you to join a Facebook group jointly managed by myself and several other authors, Research Rapture. I also have a website and a Facebook page where I post a few times weekly, generally little research tidbits relevant to my writing. I also invite you to enter Muirteach’s world and enjoy his adventures in medieval Scotland, and hope you’ll enjoy the journey.
Thanks so much for being my guest blogger today, Susan. I've been reading more medieval mysteries lately and am fascinated by the historical accuracy and attention to detail. It's fun getting a little history lesson with each book.
Susan McDuffie has been a devotee of historical fiction since her
childhood, when she believed she had been born in the wrong century.
She now writes historical mysteries set in medieval Scotland. The
Muirteach MacPhee Mysteries include A MASS FOR THE DEAD (2006), THE
FAERIE HILLS (2011-- Winner of NM Book Award “Best Historical Novel”
2011) and THE STUDY OF MURDER (September 2013).
One signed copy of The Study of Murder will be given away to a lucky resident of the U.S. or Canada who leaves a comment on this post before midnight Mountain Time tomorrow (Friday, September 20th). I'll select the the winner and post the name, but not until Sunday evening because I'll be at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in Denver this weekend.