After antiquing sojourns in the Yucatán (The Xibalba Murders), Malta (The Maltese Goddess), and Peru (The Moche Warrior), Toronto shopkeeper Lara McClintoch finds herself in County Kerry, Ireland. Lara, who has a good eye for antiques and an excellent eye for murder, is serving as moral support for her friend and employee Alex Stewart, who must attend the reading of an old friend's will. Eamon Byrne, formidable in life and maddeningly evasive in death, has decided to make the division of his estate an occasion for familial cooperation and goodwill. Well-versed in Irish mythology, Byrne leaves each person gathered at the reading a sealed clue to a mysterious treasure, a posthumous plot to force his family to mend the rifts between them. Too bad his querulous offspring aren't interested--but Lara is, particularly after learning that the clues are lines from the "Song of Amairgen," an ancient Celtic poem. As she, Alex, Rob Luczka (a Mountie along for the ride), and Rob's daughter Jennifer puzzle through the clues, the game turns lethal when members of the Byrne household are found dead.
Hamilton's premise is an intriguing one; the process of deciphering--metaphorically if not literally--ancient texts should challenge the reader and allow the author to weave artfully between past and present. But the novel is crippled by what seems to be an acute lack of interest on Hamilton's part: she makes no effort to justify Lara's deductions, which often seem to be the result of divine intervention, and doesn't address at least half of the clues, merely assuring the reader that Lara and her cronies have solved them. Hamilton's repetition also handicaps her text; in a novel with so little narrative complexity, pausing to remind the reader of past plot developments is at best unnecessary and at worst infuriating.
Lyn Hamilton's first novel, The Xibalba Murders, was nominated by the Crime Writers of Canada Association for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel; one hopes that Hamilton's next archaeological outing will better fulfill the potential implicit in that nomination. The Celtic Riddle, unfortunately, is probably not worth solving.