The Irish do a lot of things well. Whiskey and lace, storytelling and step-dancing. One thing I love about Irish culture is all the legend and superstition surrounding it. And in KILMOON, Lisa Alber’s debut mystery, she puts all that lore to good use. Tidbits of saints, ancient rites, and rumors lend atmosphere, intrigue and even humor to the novel.
In Chapter 21, for instance, we get a flashback glimpse of the first time Liam, the aging town matchmaker, met his adpoted son, Kevin. Liam walked into the orphanage where Kevin was living and asked one of the nuns, “Who’s the patron saint of feck-all situations?” The nun, without a hitch, answered, “St. Jude, patron saint of desperate circumstances.”
In Chapter 25, Danny the disgruntled detective laments how his job duties keep him from reading to his children, “traditional tales about Fionn and the salmon of knowledge.” Being a total nerd for these sort of ancient stories, I had to look them up immediately on Wikipedia.
The salmon of knowledge is a creature in the Fenian Cycle, an ancient Irish body of mythic prose and verse. According to legend, an ordinary salmon ate nine hazelnuts that fell into the Well of Wisdom from nine trees. In eating the hazelnuts, the salmon gained all the world’s knowledge, and the first person to eat the salmon’s flesh would, in turn, gain that knowledge. I don’t know about you, but where was that damn fish when I was taking the SAT?
There are a few references in the novel to “standing stones.” Having never been to Ireland, I did not know that these large upright stones, like monoliths, appear all over the country as well as in other parts of western Europe. Who exactly made them and when is somewhat of a mystery, but it is thought that they date to pre-Celtic times. As with so many other ancient, “pagan” monuments, Christian monks later carved religious symbols onto some of the standing stones.
I love how Lisa used these layers of lore and history to complement the multi-layered plot and complex characters of Kilmoon. Mysteries within mysteries. Stories within stories.
Do you have a favorite legend or superstition?
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