Monday, April 30, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Death of a Falcon by Susan McDuffie

Please join me in welcoming Susan McDuffie to Let Them Read Books! Susan is touring the blogosphere in celebration of her newest Muirteach MacPhee mystery, The Death of a Falcon! I had the pleasure of helping Susan design the covers for this series, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post most authors can relate to (and which readers find fascinating), disappearing down the research rabbit-hole! Read on and enter to win a copy of The Death of a Falcon!

Scotland, 1375: Muirteach MacPhee and his wife Mariota visit Edinburgh Castle, assisting the Lord of the Isles in his negotiations with King Robert II. A trading vessel arrives at the nearby port of Leith from the far away Norse settlement in Greenland. The ship brings unexpected diversion and carries coveted wares: gyrfalcons, unicorn’s horns, and fine furs. Both King Robert and the Lord of the Isles desire the rare birds, easily worth a king’s ransom.

Muirteach and Mariota, unaccustomed to the sophistication of castle life, initially find pleasure in the heady and flirtatious glamor of the royal court. Then sudden and unexpected cruelty, followed by the senseless death of a beautiful young girl, plunge the couple into a murky sea of alliances and intrigue that stretches from Scotland across the icy western ocean to the far northern lands of the Norse, leaving trails of treachery and murder in its wake.

Susan in Hvritamannaland, or Down the Research Rabbit-hole
by Susan McDuffie

Research Rapture: A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact. ~Sean Pidgeon

When I first read this quote, from Sean Pidgeon’s essay in the New York Times (January 5, 2013) I felt I had found a name for the condition that has afflicted my writing life. I love research, and unfortunately find it a wonderful way to procrastinate. This might stem from my dad, Bruce McDuffie, an analytical chemist with a studious bent, or from his uncle, Allen McDuffie, who was the original Scottish nerd in my family and started the Clan MacDuffie/MacFie Society in the US sometime in the 1960s. I still have a few of Uncle Allen’s research books—SCOTS HERALDRY, THE CELTIC CHURCHES, and others-- with his handwritten notes, his handwriting so similar to my dad’s, in the margins. The stories I heard from the two of them about the MacDuffie clan’s role as Keeper of the Records for the Lords of the Isles were my original inspiration for the Muirteach MacPhee mysteries, the first of which was A MASS FOR THE DEAD.

Still, for each book I write I find I have to have some extra little nugget of history, or sometimes what I like to call ”faux-history” (you can include alien abduction and the Oak Island Mystery in this category), that sparks each book. For THE FAERIE HILLS, the second in this series, it was fairy changeling lore, along with the Bridget Cleary murder in late 19th century Ireland. If women were being murdered because they were suspected of being “taken” by the fairies in 1895, then what had been the mindset five hundred years before that, in 1373, when belief in the “good people” was presumably even stronger? THE WATERGATE of course references legends of the kelpies, while my interest in the Voynich manuscript inspired THE STUDY OF MURDER. (All these awesome covers designed by our own Jenny Q!)

When writing THE DEATH OF A FALCON, the latest Muirteach mystery, research led me very far afield from the setting of the book in Edinburgh Castle. I originally thought of doing something with the Knights Templar in Scotland, maybe lost Templar treasure. I knew I wanted Henry Sinclair, the ancestor of the Sinclair who built Roslyn Chapel, as a character. (See Frederick Pohl’s original book, PRINCE HENRY SINCLAIR, for more on that!) However, when researching Henry Sinclair I stumbled across a book titled THE IRRESISTIBLE NORTH by Andrea di Robilant. Di Robilant theorized that Henry Sinclair, and the Zen brothers, the Venetian navigators who purportedly travelled with him, writers of The Zeno Narrative, had really journeyed to Iceland and Greenland. Here’s an image of the Zeno Map:

This led me down the rabbit-hole of the lost Norse colony in Greenland, and I was entranced. The more I researched, the more bewitched I grew. The Norse colony just vanished; the last written reference to the Greenland settlers was in 1408 when a marriage was recorded in the Eastern Settlement. Yet, before that, a very European society had persisted in Greenland for several hundred years. Where did the remaining Norse go? Did English slavers capture them? Did they travel across the Atlantic to attempt to settle in North America? Were they absorbed by the indigenous population? Recent archaeological discoveries in the High Arctic indicate there may have much more contact between the Norse and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and Canada than was indicated in the sagas.

I also learned of the Inventio Fortunatae, a lost book recounting the travels of an English friar in the far north sometime in the 14th century, which influenced geographers well into the 16th century.  Here’s an image of Mercator’s map from the 16th century.

Not to mention Hvitramannaland, also known as “Greater Ireland”, or Farley Mowat’s own far-out theory detailed in his 1998 book, THE FAR-FARERS. An Inuit kayaker who washed ashore near Aberdeen in 1705. The Kensington runestone. The Newport Tower. Norumbega. And so on. I wandered for a long while, very happily lost in this Research Wonderland, before I began to write, and completely lost track of the Knights Templars, who didn’t make it into THE DEATH OF A FALCON. Hopefully they won’t be missed!


About the Author:

A fan of historical fiction since childhood, Susan McDuffie spent such vast amounts of time reading stories set in the past that she wondered if she had mistakenly been 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 childhood interest in Scotland was fueled by family stories of the McDuffie clan’s ancestral lands on Colonsay and their traditional role as “Keeper of the Records” for the Lords of the Isles. On her first visit to Scotland she hitchhiked her way through the Hebrides, and her initial visit to Colonsay and the Oronsay Priory ruins planted the seeds for her medieval mysteries. Those seeds have grown into the Muirteach MacPhee mysteries, set in medieval Scotland during the Celtic Lordship of the Isles. The series includes A MASS FOR THE DEAD, THE FAERIE HILLS (2011 New Mexico Book Awards “Best Historical Novel”), THE STUDY OF MURDER (New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards Finalist 2014), and THE DEATH OF A FALCON. Susan frequently presents at workshops and conferences and regularly reviews historical fiction books for the Historical Novel Society’s Historical Novels Review.

Susan lives in New Mexico and shares her life with a Native American artist and four cosseted cats. She enjoys taking flamenco dance classes in her spare time. Susan loves to hear from readers and can be contacted via Facebook or through her website.

The Death of a Falcon is on a blog tour!


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away 5 paperback copies & 5 eBooks of The Death of a Falcon! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 11th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Death of a Falcon


  1. Great post, thank you so much for hosting, Jenny!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. Thanks so much for hosting me, Jenny. And for those wonderful covers!


I love comments! Getting feedback on my posts makes my day! Thanks for being here!