*Review* The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffie

Posted Sunday, 27 October, 2013 by jorielov , , , 7 Comments

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The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffie
[Book Three in the Muirteach MacPhee mystery series]

The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffie

[Book One: A Mass for the Dead]
[Book Two: The Fairie Hills]

Published By: Five Star Publishing, an imprint of Gale Group, September 2013
Page Count: 264
Available Formats: Softcover and E-Book

Blog Book Tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
was scheduled 16th of September – 25th of September 2013

Acquired Book By: Whilst following the said book tour for The Study of Murder, I had the honour of interacting with Ms. McDuffie on Unabridged Chick’s blog. That conversation moved off-blog, as I had a bit more to say about how lovely it was to find an author who was as dedicated to research as she happens to be! The author contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing her book. I received a complimentary copy of The Study of Murder direct from the author herself [Susan McDuffie] in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

What implored me to read The Study of Murder: I was originally intrigued with the title itself, as I was looking over the upcoming book tours on the HFVBT website, and I thought to myself, “This one sounds interesting!”. Yet, I wasn’t sure if it fell under ‘cosy’ or ‘hard-boiled’ which is why I hesitated to find a copy through my local library! Laughs. Mostly as I tend to read more mysteries on the cosy side of the ledger, being that I have a sensitive heart! When the review posted on Unabridged Chick I started to see the story as a whole, and realised that I not only could read the book, but that I might find myself curiously entranced by the setting by which the story takes place!! There was a direct line of interest for me, as I have become an appreciator of the “Inspector Morse” and “Inspector Lewis” mysteries from the BBC! I borrowed the first two seasons of Morse, before realising that the harder hitting story-lines were a bit too unsettling for me at the time I was watching them! (Spring 2012) Which is why I decided to seek out Lewis instead, as I had a feeling his spin-off series might be a bit lighter or at the very least, easier to watch! I was quite chuffed to find that I was right! 

I had mentioned my knowledge of Morse and Lewis whilst interacting on Unabridged Chick‘s blog as I had a bit of a footing of the historical aspects of Oxford, simply based on the observations I had made whilst watching the series! There is such a large presence of historical artifacts as far as structures and buildings are concerned, that you can get a good sense of the depth of history and of time, that Oxford can afford! I was also encouraged by this review to read The Study of Murder because it’s not quite as hard-boiled as I had feared!

All of this combined with the fact the central character is of Scottish decent implored me to find out more about this lovely three book series and the author who penned it! The way in which I concluded my thoughts on Unabridged Chick‘s blog were as follows:

Prior to seeing the series, I always mistook Oxford for a quaint University towne, where scholarly pursuits were the center-focus! However, it’s also a hub for the arts, theatre, and has a youthful vibe set against the backdrop of a rather ancient site of University grounds! There is history leaping out off the screen, and inside the suspense of the story-lines, I always get a proper sense that ‘there is something more’ ‘something left unsaid’ that is just awaiting my discovery! I love old architecture and places like Oxford, who have an enriched history that is still viable and visible!

Combined with all of this I said tonight + the other day, you can see why I was properly fascinated by “The Study of Murder”!!! I completely concur with you, the characters that stay a bit in your mind’s eye and heart, are the ones who have broached into that special remembrance place all readers aspire to keep their most beloved reads!

Susan McDuffie

Author Biography:

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). Additional information can be found at www.SusanMcDuffie.net  or facebook.com/SusanMcDuffieAuthor.

Setting into a Muirteach MacPhee mystery:

One of the gifts of having an author whose passion for research is clearly evident from the first moment you pick up their novel to the very last page your fingers touch as you watch the story resolve at its conclusion, is that your mind never falters out of the timescape by which the story is set! You’re instantly intrigued by the uniqueness of the era by which the story is unfolding inside, due to the distance between the 1300’s and the 2000’s! It’s not as though we have a semblance of a working knowledge of what life led ‘then’ would involve as compared to how we might be acquainted through living (family) histories with the 1800’s and 1900’s!

The author provides a brilliant resources page to help readers sort through the Gaelic pronunciations! Although, I have learnt how to properly say “Muirteach”, I must confess, part of what I love about reading is how I attach certain ‘endearing names’ to the characters that I discover whilst I walk through stories!

Your introduction to Oxford comes through a travelogue of notations as a young son of the Lord of the Isles is sent to Oxford to study, and I would presume, to gain a breath of the world to enlighten his path towards maturity! You’re with the MacPhee’s as they first enter Oxford, and whilst they start to settle into village life. Including becoming regulars at the alehouse, booksellers, market, and other little odd nooks around the village that bespoke to life during that time! I was mirroring my dismay with Mariota (Muirteach’s wife) at how close-minded and cold-hearted the institutions of school were towards women. Although, I have oft known of this particular issue in the folds of history, as it creeps into view whilst I read certain stories set during certain times in our histories.

One of the opening revelations that spoke to my sense of suspense and curiosity are of the parchments that young Donald was given to use for his schoolwork!? I was fascinated by how you were never quite certain where the parchments had come from originally OR even what their direct purpose was prior to being in your possession! I was quite curious how the drawings were attached to the mystery, or if in effect, they were a secondary branch of mystery!

I like that Muirteach’s wife, Mariota is painted as a formidable and independent woman! She has a strong head on her shoulders, and she’s determined to follow her will without being told what she aims to do is impossible or ill received for the time she is living! I always latch on to strong women in stories, because they give us such a hearty glimpse of the strength it takes to pursue your dreams and to be able to push through an obstacles that might arise in your life as you walk towards your destiny.

Transportation is limited in this part of Oxford, as most of it is by foot! Being that I have advanced my stamina in recent years to walking a handful of miles whilst enjoying the natural world, I can attest, that walking has its wellness attributes! Yet, I am not sure if I could get used to always having to walk to reach each destination that is needed to be visited! I think that takes more energy than I have stored to have within me! In this way, I noticed that the pace of life is set differently than our time of day now. Being a University towne, everything of course, runs in counterpart to the lectures and the lives of the students, which I discerned is not always acceptable to the townesfolk who live there. Much in the same way I think modern University townes get a bit of a bad reputation, as the ‘hobby of the hour’ is drinking ale or wine to the brink of being drunk!

The manner is which Muirteach deduces his investigations is quite unlike another I have come across since, because he has such a quiet manner about him! He calmly asks questions and investigates in a way that is befit a man who enjoys the duties of detecting but perhaps, does not fully want to explore detection. He stumbles a bit in finding the connections, but given the people he has to interact with, I do not find them to be easily questioned due to their preference for hostility.

I like the interactions he has with his wife, because it shows a marriage of equality at a time when men had more ruling over women. I like finding distinctive differences to the norm in literature, as it begs the question that despite the society norms, you will always have a few who adhere to a rhythm that extends outside society’s reach. In this way, we always shift forward and away from the darker days without liberties and move into a time of equal pursuits and stations. I think I would enjoy getting to know Mariota a bit more in the previous stories, as I was appreciative of her knowledge of natural medicine and tinctures!

These mysteries unfold gently, (which endears them to cosy) yet they provide you with a gritty sense of reality once the murders and/or violence start to unfold, (this would be the slightly bent towards hard-boiled bits) in such a way that it’s possible to read them if you enjoy either branch of mystery! For me, I was thankful the death scenes were not too elaborate and that the heart of the story was consumed by the investigation rather than the macabre of the deaths.

Review of The Study of Murder:

The story opens benignly enough with the quest to partake of life in Oxford, to seek the education of the Lord’s son, by which Muirteach MacPhee and his wife, Mariota were entrusted to achieve. I realised it could not stay this uncomplicated, but what I appreciated in the telling of the unfolding story, is the historical details that differentiate the classes and casts. As much as the inability of women to study at their choosing the subjects and topics that interest them, merely due to the inability to have the right to study such as they gained in generations past the 14th Century; in the mid to late 1800’s from what I can gather. I found it curious how industrious Mariota MacPhee became in this installment of the Muirteach MacPhee mysteries, to not only succeed at pursuing her studies but in having gained the insightful knowledge of natural medicine by being attune to her father’s work previously!

At first, it felt as though there was a simple matter of a missing girl, presumed dead that curtailed into the brutal murder of a Master at the University itself! This was followed by a second murder, which although presumed interconnected to the first murder, I was still curious how the disappearance of the first girl fit into the timeline! I started to sort out the meaning of the mysterious parchments, but what held my interest was an attempt to unearth the connecting dots that would place each of the events in line and construct the picture into a larger scope.

One thing that always struck me about living during the earlier centuries, is that oft-times the conditions of the townes were quite amuck of filth and sewage! I have always heard of the stories of Venice, Italy, being that the canal streets and close proximity of the waterways always prove to be a disadvantage in keeping the city clean: both in sight and smell. It did not surprise me in the least that Oxford, at this point in history, suffered under the same issues of Venice of today. Honestly, I do not know how one could handle the enormity of stench whilst walking down the streets! Especially as depicted if it were true that the townesfolk would simply dump out their sewage into the very streets themselves!

The mystery ended up being compounded by the delusions of a madman who felt compelled to a calling that only he was aware of existing. In this way, I nearly pitied the villain in the story, but only nearly, because what he did to secure his calling was outside the scope of God’s and Man’s Law of Order. I was still curious at the ending about the parchments, as if they were of an origin that was not yet known at the time or if they were simply not as important as I first thought they would be revealed as being!?

Thankful that I stumbled across this book on tour with HFVBT:

If I hadn’t started to seek out the books going on tour with HFVBT at the time in which I stumbled across this one, I might not have had the pleasure to interact with the author, Ms. McDuffie! I never would have suspected a conversation or a passion for research and writing would have led to my opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review! Therefore, I can only attest, that if you see a book going on tour that piques your interest, do follow the tour routes and leave messages for the authors’ and bloggers’ who are participating! You simply might find a new book to read, an author to engage in conversation, and perhaps, even, win one of the books that are given away! I celebrate the beauty of the bookish culture online, for it provides all of us a chance to interact with those who write the stories that interest us to discover!

IF you are familiar with the book tours HFVBT organises, I am most curious, which tours stand out in your mind as being amongst your favourites!? Did you get the chance to converse with one of the authors? Do you seek out books that are touring (on blogs) through all the lovely book tour companies!?

{SOURCES: Author biography, Book Cover, and Author photograph were given to me by the author herself, (Susan McDuffie) and are used with permission. Book Review badge provided by Parajunkee to give book bloggers definition on their blogs. }

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2013.

Related Articles:

The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffie – (unabridged-expression.blogspot.com)

Interview with Susan McDuffie – (unabridged-expression.blogspot.com)

Guest Post: Susan McDuffie’s The Study of Murder – (hf-connection.com)

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Sunday, 27 October, 2013 by jorielov in 14th Century, Amateur Detective, Blog Book Tour Find, Book Review (non-blog tour), England, Indie Author, Late Middle Ages (1300-1500), Oxford

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7 responses to “*Review* The Study of Murder by Susan McDuffie

  1. I love how your review made me want to read this book RIGHT NOW. Which may not be the best thing given that NaNoWriMo starts in less than a week and there are other books I want to read before November 1, but hopefully I’ll remember how much you made me want to read it (or the first book in the series) come December!

    • Christine,

      I *love!* this response because its exactly the same reaction I had when I read Audra’s review!! Now, that is SERIOUSLY WICKED!! :) :) Ooh, I’ll DEF remember to remind you about how much you wanted to drop everything and read this book the week of Halloween!! I’ll ‘book it Dano!’ :) I still remember how itchy I felt in the hours and last days of October back in 2008, leading up to Nanowrimo — ooh, how much I ached for the 1st to ring off the clock so that I could dig in deep and begin! I’m with you in spirit, my friend!!

      • Awesome, thanks! :D

        Oh god, it doesn’t change no matter how many times I participate in NaNo (year 8 this year!). Even though I still have a lot to figure out plot-wise, I would love to get started right now but I’m one of those who doesn’t write down even one sentence of the actual story before November 1 because I don’t want to be taken out of the experience.

        Thanks! I’ll try to post some updates regarding my NaNo status on my blog in addition to my bookish posts ;)

        • Christine,

          Your EXACTLY like me in that regard!! :)

          I couldn’t work on my Nano Novel until after midnight the day of the event! I didn’t even compose any thoughts about what I would write nor where my writings would take me! It was a serendipitous walk of faith to see where November would take me, and the writing adventure that would be brought to life therein! Like you, I wanted the totality of the experience, to where I literally took 30 days to hone in and focus directly on my writing!! I will be forever grateful that I did that! :)

          Now, I have something to look forward too whilst participating in SFN!
          I’ll be the cheerleader on the sidelines encouraging you onward and upward!

          • Yes, it is amazing how many people already have excerpts and other in-depth things planned for their novels! I go in with a very loose idea and a few characters and just go from there. No scenes (or sentences!) written in advance, just the idea and a couple of characters and maybe a short synopsis and working title – the two latter ones will both more than likely change when the month comes to a close – and that’s it. If there’s anything I need to “plan” as the story goes on, I’ll jot down notes, draw a map, etc. but that’s all during November.

            There was only one time I did it differently, and that was when I had started a novel in August of the same year, loved it, but didn’t get much done because of how busy I was and I knew if I stopped writing it, I would never finish it. So I went in with about a third of it written, and it worked out great, thanks to NaNoWriMo I managed to finish it with the over 50,000 words I wrote that month. But I doubt I would ever do that again! Maybe another month during one of the unoffical NaNo spinoffs, but not November. *laughs*

            Thanks! :D

    • Christine,

      I had always planned to cast out a reply to this comment, but somewhere between when I read it and now, I have forgotten to stitch together my reply! I was going to say that half the fun of Nanowrimo for me was walking in without a firm idea of where the writings in November would take me! I loved the ambiguous nature of the event! Like you, the little sketchings of the story outline form together as I write, but I do not generate a regular outline per se, but rather a simple guide for me to refer back to as I dig deeper into the plot! Its very much composed whilst writing than something that is ironed out ahead of time! Nice to know we have the same style of writing personality!

      I agree with you, its best to keep November strictly for the regular NanoNovel, and let the re-writes, editing, and left-over chapters of another novel wait for another time! I truly am supporting you & my other friends’ who are caught up in the bliss of Nano! I, myself, must confess that I am enjoying SFN even more than I originally hoped I would! :)

      • That’s okay, I’m just now getting caught up on all my comments and everyone’s entries from the past three+ days so I wouldn’t have read this reply before now anyway XD

        Ambiguous is VERY good for NaNo. I was considering maybe trying what I had done back in ’08 again this year, finishing a novel I’d already started, but I knew I couldn’t because I love the plans I have for that story too much to try and finish it in a month’s time. I will, however, try and get back to working on it once NaNo is over and I’ve recuperated a bit :)

        So glad to hear you’re enjoying SFN so much! I, too, am surprised at how much I am enjoying NaNo this year because you would think that this being my eighth year the excitement would have faded quite a bit, but definitely not so! :D

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