The Celtic Crow Murders by Patricia La Barbera

The Celtic Crow Murders by Patricia La BarberaAlthough this novella is only 128 standard pages La Barbera manages to pack in as many twists and uncertainties as a mystery twice its length, without skimping on detail.

Larissa O’Connor’s husband died in a car crash. At the funeral she discovers a hooded stranger performing a ceremony over her husband’s body and making cryptic references to the Celtic Crow, leaving her more convinced than ever his death was not an accident. When a letter arrives claiming the answers lie in her family’s past in Northern Ireland, she discovers that her husband might be the latest victim of a curse that stretches forward from the conversion of the Irish Kings to Christianity.

Larissa is a well-rounded character, displaying the usual modern disbelief in ancient prophecies and occult conspiracies to begin with but neither diving into magic nor unfeasibly disregarding evidence as she investigates further. By making her a travel journalist, La Barbera creates a justification for her investigative competence without the sacrifice of risk that making her a law enforcement professional would bring.

The supporting characters are also well crafted, from the intense and changeable emotions of Larissa’s daughter to the slow revelation of unsettled depths behind the openness of her seat-mate on the plane to Ireland.

As well as balancing the revelation of who sent the letter and whether Larissa’s husband really died in an accident, the book carefully maintains uncertainty about a mystical cause: even as the dénouement looms it is not clear whether Larissa’s dreams are echoes of a past life or merely nightmares built from the day’s events.

Instead of glossing over meals as most novels do, this book gives small word portraits of key meals. These snapshots of enjoyment carry a holiday mood, echoing Larissa’s cover story for a sudden trip to Northern Ireland and making the growing paranoia of the main plot darker by contrast.

The mystery remains unresolved until almost the last page before resolving the immediate threat. This resolution is plausible but leaves the reader sharing Larissa’s feelings of anti-climax. Larger issues in her family’s history are left unresolved, leaving an opening for a sequel.

Overall I enjoyed this book; however, the volume of plot and detail is almost too much for the length, teetering on the brink of being rushed. I recommend it to readers looking for a few hours of intriguing mystery.

I received a free copy of this book.


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