Wednesday, September 25, 2013

VBT: Review of The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffie

The Study of Murder

by Susan McDuffie

Publication Date: September 18, 2013
Five Star Publishing
Hardcover; 264p
ISBN-10: 1432827200

The Study of Murder pits Scottish sleuth Muirteach MacPhee against a mysterious adversary in the medieval town of Oxford in 1374.At the command of the Lord of the Isles, Muirteach and his wife Mariota accompany Donald, the lord's surly thirteen-year-old son, to Oxford where Donald is to enroll in university. Shortly after their arrival a winsome tavern maid disappears. At his charge's insistence, Muirteach attempts to help Undersheriff Grymbaud with the investigation, as well as keep Donald at his studies and out of the taverns. He has little success with either venture, although the discovery of some bizarre and suggestive drawings on old parchments piques the curiosity of Donald and his peers. Meanwhile, Mariota thirsts to attend medical lectures at the schools, which are closed to women, and seeks a way to gain admittance to them. When an Oxford master is found brutally bludgeoned to death, Grymbaud asks Muirteach to investigate the slaying. The eventual arrest of an aged servant at the college stirs the ever-simmering discord between townsfolk and university students. The unrest culminates in riots and another senseless killing occurs, endangering Mariota. Gleaning clues from a cryptic manuscript and desperate to save his wife, a determined Muirteach tracks a wily killer through a dark and twisted labyrinth of deceit.

Praise for The Study of Murder

"THE STUDY OF MURDER is a worthy addition to Susan McDuffie's 14th century Hebridean mystery series. Muirteach and Mariota may be in an alien world, when they accompany the son of the Lord of the Isles to Oxford, but neither town nor gown can match their clever wits in solving crime. This book is a treat for those of us eager for a fresh era, well-integrated history, and a host of interesting characters." - Priscilla Royal, author of the Prioress Eleanor/Brother Thomas Mysteries

About the Author

Susan McDuffie has been a fan of historical fiction since childhood. As a child, Susan spent such vast amounts of time reading historical fiction that she wondered if she was mistakenly born in the wrong century. As an adult her discovery that Clorox was not marketed prior to 1922 reconciled her to life in this era. Susan’s first published works were two Regency short stories in Regency Press anthologies.

Susan’s childhood interest in Scotland was fueled by stories of the McDuffie clan’s ancestral lands on Colonsay and their traditional role as “Keeper of the Records” for the Lord of the Isles. On her first visit to Scotland she hitchhiked her way through the Hebrides and the seeds for the medieval Muirteach MacPhee mysteries were planted.

The Muirteach mysteries include A MASS FOR THE DEAD (2006), THE FAERIE HILLS (2011), and THE STUDY OF MURDER (September 2013). The New Mexico Book Awards named THE FAERIE HILLS  “Best Historical Novel” of 2011. Currently plotting Muirteach’s next adventure, Susan shares her life with a Native American artist and four unruly cats, and enjoys taking flamenco dance classes in her spare time. She loves to hear from readers and her website is

My thoughts:

The Study of Murder is set in medieval Oxford and Susan McDuffie brings this city and this period to life in such a way that the reader is transported.  Her characters are rich and multi faceted which further pulls the reader into her mystery.  The novel revolves around Scottish scribe, Keeper of the Records for the Lord of the Isles, Muirteach MacPhee, along with his wife have travelled to Oxford to keep the Lord’s thirteen year old son, Donald, in line as he begins his studies at Oxford; which, in itself is proves no small task.   

No sooner than the MacPhee and Donald’s arrival the Oxford a local woman goes missing followed by a murder at the university.  The Oxford Undersheriff, Grymbaud, requests the help of MacPhee following the bludgeoning of the Oxford master.  The murder is eventually solved with the arrest of an aged servant causing the barely contained social strife between townsfolk and university students to boil over.  The resulting unrest culminates in riots and another senseless killing occurs.  MacPhee begins to gather clues from a cryptic manuscript and tracks a crafty murderer through a dark and twisted labyrinth of deceit.

The story is furthered enriched with the character of MacPhee’s wife, Mariota, an woman who has trained in medicine but is not admitted to set foot in the school building; the very idea of educated women considered absurd.  Mariota cleverly finds a way around this unwittingly endangering herself in her efforts.  The relationship between husband and wife is endearing, and from my understanding very uncommon for the age, but their relationship adds to the novel’s appeal.

Muirteach MacPhee reminded me of one of my favorite fictional detectives Matthew Shardlake, which is true praise from this reader, and even the flow of the story was similar to the Shardlake series, with clues and motives slow to evolve and written in a way that keeps the reader guessing.  Another comparison to the Shardlake series is that MacPhee also serves as the novel’s narrator and does so with that same patience meticulous intelligence of a true investigator.

The Study of Murder is the perfect blend of history, rich in historical detail, and a mysterious investigation leading the reader on many twists and turns.  And while,The Study of Murder is not McDuffie’s first novel to feature Muirteach MacPhee, the story stands on its own.

The Study of Murder was a wonderful quick and enjoyable read and I would recommend it without hesitation.

Twitter Hashtag: #StudyOfMurderTour


  1. Shannon, thanks so much for your thoughtful review of THE STUDY OF MURDER. I am totally jazzed (and flattered!) that you compared Muirteach to Matthew Shardlake, as he is also a favorite of mine. I'll look forward to staying in touch in the future and I'm so glad you enjoyed Muirteach's sojourn in Oxford!

  2. So glad you liked the comparison! He is a fav of mine also and it was truly a compliment!!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Warm regards, Shannon


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!!

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