On Visiting Thin Places by Lucy Burdette

Today we welcome back to the blog our good friend, Lucy Burdette. Lucy’s here to celebrate the release of Scone of Contention, the eleventh book in her Key West Food Critic Mystery series.

Here’s the blurb

A murderer’s out to spoil Hayley’s honeymoon in national bestselling author Lucy Burdette’s eleventh Key West Food Critic Mystery.

Key Zest food critic Hayley Snow and her groom, police detective Nathan Bransford, chose Scotland for their long-delayed honeymoon, hoping to sightsee and enjoy prize-winning scones. But their romantic duo swells to a crowd when they’re joined by Nathan’s family as well as octogenarian Miss Gloria.

Nathan’s sister Vera takes the women on a whirlwind tour of some of Scotland’s iconic mystic places as research for a looming book project. But the trip takes a deadly tartan turn when a dinner party guest falls ill and claims she was poisoned. And then the group watches in horror as a mysterious tourist tumbles to his death from the famous Falkirk Wheel, high above the Forth & Clyde canal.

Vera and her friends deny knowing the dead man, but after observing their reactions to the fall, Hayley is not convinced. With one person dead, a second possibly poisoned, and the tension among Vera’s friends as thick as farmhouse cheese, Hayley fears her long-awaited honeymoon might end with another murder.

Far away from home, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, eccentric characters, and a forbiddingly gorgeous setting, Hayley must call on all her savvy to keep a killer from striking again and then escaping Scot free.

Take it away, Lucy!

I don’t believe I’d ever paid much attention to the concept of thin places before we traveled to Scotland in 2019. I like this description by Eric Weiner, found in the New York Times: “It’s not clear who first uttered the term “thin places,” but they almost certainly spoke with an Irish brogue. The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

Iona

We visited that isle of Iona, absolutely staggering in its lonely beauty, along with Glencoe, in the highlands of Scotland, famous for a bloody massacre that occurred in a peaceful village. The ruins of a home on the site of this massacre are said to be very thin, with some visitors experiencing the presence of the people who had lived there. I was disappointed not to feel that, but Robin, one of the friends we made on the trip, definitely did. She described it this way: “At first, maybe because I was alone on that walk, I felt that I was walking on sacred ground. I was sensing the quiet spirits of those who had gone before. I had no feelings of fear or panic at that point. It was almost like they were explaining that this was where they lived and worked and raised their families. I felt a sense of sadness yet quiet acceptance from these spirits that echoed in the whispering of the leaves. It was emotionally overwhelming and a memory that will always remain with me.”

Glencoe

I knew that I wanted to weave the theme of thin places into A Scone of Contention, the 11th book in the Key West food critic mystery series—as much of the book takes place in Scotland. If you follow this series, you might immediately recognize two characters who would connect with thin places, tarot card reader Lorenzo, and Miss Gloria, Hayley’s beloved octogenarian neighbor. But I couldn’t bring the whole Key West gang on this trip—it was supposed to be Hayley and Nathan’s delayed honeymoon! In the end, they enthusiastically invited Miss Gloria to go with them. In the following snippet, they are newly arrived guests in the home of Nathan’s sister, Vera, and her husband in St. Andrews. This scene takes place on the first night of their visit.

I heard a soft tap on the door. 
“Come in.” 
Miss Gloria’s elfin face appeared. 
“Everything okay?” I asked. 
“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see more of the countryside.” She paused, plucked at her topknot of white hair. “But I am a little worried.” 
I patted the bed beside me. “About what?” 
She crossed the room and perched on Nathan’s side of the bed. “It might sound silly. But I didn’t realize that Vera’s husband is a Campbell. I never asked you their family name.” 
“And that’s a problem because…?” 
“Because my mother’s people were McDonalds.” 
She stopped speaking, as though that was all I needed to know. But it explained nothing to me. 
“Say a little more about that?” I suggested. 
She heaved a troubled sigh. “My ancestors lived in the Highlands, in Glencoe where we will be going with Vera, I’m sure. It’s well known for being a thin place. And many of those same people were massacred by the Campbells. William’s people.” 
She looked so distressed that I needed to understand. Clearly, I should have been reading more Scottish history. “And how long ago did all this happen?” I asked. 
“In the 1600’s. But they wiped out most of the clan. And we have long memories. I still sense that loss right here.” She pressed her hand to her chest and I could almost feel her heart pounding like a little bird. 
“I can imagine how distressing that bit of history would feel,” I said. 
Though in truth, I couldn’t quite imagine getting that upset about something so long ago. On the other hand, I didn’t know the details of the massacre, and I was a lot younger than Miss Gloria. More concerned with the here-and-now, than my ancestors’ lives. This was likely a failing of my own. 
“Let’s get a little rest. We’re both exhausted. And then we can figure out what to do when we’re fresh.” I reached over to give her a hug.  

Though honestly, what was there to do? Demand reparations from our host, Nathan’s brother-in-law, for what his ancestors did four hundred years ago?  

I hope you’ll enjoy this visit to Scotland. I sure did love writing it!

Readers: Have you visited a thin place? Have you had the experience of making a connection with spirits from another time in such a place?

About Lucy

Lucy in Glencoe

New Jersey born Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib is the author of 19 mysteries, including A SCONE OF CONTENTION, the latest in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow (coming August 10, 2021 from Crooked Lane Books.) Bronze medal-winning THE KEY LIME CRIME is the tenth book in her Key West food critic mystery series. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She’s a past president of Sisters in Crime, and currently serving as president of the Friends of the Key West Library.

https://facebook.com/LucyBurdette

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35 Thoughts

  1. Lucy, I can’t wait to read Scone – it’s on my coffee table waiting for me! I don’t know if it qualified as a thin place, but the historic 1851 Friends Meetinghouse where I sit in unprogrammed (that is, mostly silent) worship every Sunday has that kind of feeling. I sense the presence of Quakers who have sat there over for almost two centuries. It’s a light and spirit filled room.

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  2. This sounds so fabulous, Lucy! I love the concept of a thin place and haven’t ever heard that before. When we lived in Massachusetts I often walked the Minuteman trail where the first battle of the Revolutionary War occurred. There were times when if felt like spirits were near. My daughter felt it at Stonehenge when we visited.

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  3. Congrats on your book release and I can’t wait to see what Hayley gets into. I don’t think I’ve been to a “thin” place.

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  4. Looking forward to Scone!

    The concept of thin places is intriguing. I’d not heard the term before. I’m reminded of the house I visited in Washington, DC. The docent led the tour through the front hall to the stairway. When we got to the stairway, we were told to look down at the people walking in the hallway. They arced out in a semi-circle away from the stairs toward the hall wall. According to the docent, the lady of the house thrown to her death from the stairway by her husband. The spot that visitors avoided was where she died. I wonder if that was a thin place.

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  5. Well, I’ve learned something new today, thin places! Love the Scottish setting and storyline for your book!

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  6. Fabulous book! It made me wish for a trip to Scotland, and grateful for a literary visit, the next best thing. I’ve not felt the presence of others in thin places like Stonehenge and Delphi, but I have had a sense that they were special, a calm and expectant feeling. Storyteller Gerald Fierst said that light on water is an entry to the fairy realm, which makes me wonder about my little pond, and the houseboats of our Key West friends. Possibilities everywhere . . . perhaps some scones can keep us grounded?

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  7. Love the idea of thin places. Although I’ve been to the Highlands–and really did leave my heart there–I’d never heard that phrase. Scottish folksinger Alex Beaton had a terrific song about the slaughter of the McDonalds. PS: my maiden name is MacBain, so I come by this interest naturally. Looking forward to reading Lucy’s Scottish adventure.

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  8. We have intuitive gifts in our family. One odd thing that happened to me was in my ancestors church in Barga, Italy. I touched a pew and it felt familiar to me.

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  9. Iona is wonderful! And definitely a thin place. I spent a week there in 1975, living in the abbey, hiking, learning the history and hearing stories of moonlit nights when people could still see ghostly Viking raiders arriving to pillage and burn. Oh, I love thin places. Can’t wait to read your book, Lucy.

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    1. Yikes! I don’t love the pillaging and burning part of thin places! But that wicked possibility in thin places is kind of what Halloween is about, don’t you think? On that especially thin night, people wear masks to scare evil creatures back to where they belong.

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  10. I have never heard the term “thin places”, but I’ve been to them. There are numerous places in Peru where I have definitely felt the presence of distant spirits. And, whenever I visit San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, my father who lived there as a young man and died in 1974, walks along beside me. counsels and comforts me.

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  11. Thanks for visiting today, Lucy! I love the notion of thin places and often think of Old Orchard Beach, ME that way. I love it so much that I wrote two books set there exploring how place makes a connection to other realms more possible!

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  12. I just finished your book last night and loved my visit to Scotland with Hayley and friends. I think that you introduced us to the term “thin places” when you told us about the book last year, and that was probably the first time I’d heard it. But, I confess that I experience it all of the time, although not like Miss Gloria did that afternoon. Sometimes, I feel it when hiking out in nature. Sometimes, I feel it at a historical sight, like The Old North Church in Boston or an archeological dig here or abroad. The strongest I ever felt it was in the Old City in Jerusalem. There are several excavations which go underneath present day structures to expose past civilizations. I could almost see the women with jugs of water on their shoulders, coming from the well. Lucy/Roberta, thank you for a fabulous trip!

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  13. When our ETSU storytelling cruise included visits to Mayan temples, I felt very uneasy there. Perhaps my own imagination from what I knew of sacrificial rituals, but it felt painful and sad and I had to walk away.

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  14. I bought your latest and it is on the way from Amazon. I love your books. We used to go to the Keys for thirteen years in a row and rent a house in Marathon, but always went to Key West several times in each of those years.

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