Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart

>> Saturday, April 10, 2010

TITLE: Haunted Ground
AUTHOR: Erin Hart

PAGES: 417
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Contemporary rural Ireland
TYPE: Mystery with some romance
SERIES: Starts one featuring Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire. Followed by Lake of Sorrows and False Mermaid.

REASON FOR READING: I've no idea. I thought it had been recommended by someone in my romance Yahoo group, but she says she hasn't read it!

When the perfectly preserved head of a red-haired woman is pulled from the depths of an Irish peat bog, both Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire are called in to investigate. While trying to determine how long the woman has been dead, Nora and Cormac stay at Bracklyn House, the home of Hugh Osborne, a man with ties to a more recent mystery. Osborne's wife, Mina, and two-year-old son, Christopher, disappeared two years earlier, and the police still consider him their prime suspect. Soon Detective Garrett Devaney of the Dunbeg Garda joins Nora and Cormac in their attempt to solve crimes past and present.
Peat bogs have been known to preserve human remains for centuries, so when a farmer discovers the undecayed head of a red-haired woman in one, police immediately call in the archeologists. Cormac Maguire, together with his colleague, American pathologist Nora Gavin, make haste from Dublin to Galway, where the head was found. Installed in the house of local landowner Hugh Osborne, they work to find out more about this woman. It's soon clear that the remains hold quite a few secrets, and Nora, especially, is determined to unearth them all.

But there is yet another mystery in that area of Galway, and it's one Nora can't help but involve herself in. A couple of years earlier, Hugh Osborne's wife and son disappeared in very mysterious circumstances. They'd gone for a walk, just like they did every day, but at one point in their walk, they vanished without a trace. Police have searched everywhere for them, including the bogs, but they still haven't found any signs of them. The villagers all suspect the husband, but since no body has been found, there isn't even proof that any crime has been committed. Years earlier, Nora's sister was murdered in very similar circumstances, so she's determined to discover the truth there as well. And clearly, someone is just as determined to keep her from doing so.

This is an intrincate, atmospheric read, and I very much liked a lot of the elements involved in the story. There's a mystery from the past and a more modern one reflecting off each other (well, in the end, the paralells weren't as clear as I expected, but both mysteries were really interesting). There's the Irish countryside, depicted in vivid colour. There's the archeological bits, which fascinated me. There's even a romance.

All good, but unfortunately the execution wasn't as good as it should be. I think this must be a first book, because the writing is sometimes a bit awkward and the action didn't quite flow well in certain sections.

Also, the main characters are interesting enough, but a bit forgettable. It's been a while now since I read this, and I don't really remember all that much about them, or their romance, other than the basics. The only strong memory that remains is my frustration with Nora for the way she simply immediately made up her mind that Hugh Osborne was responsible for his wife's death. There was no evidence whatsoever, she didn't even know the man, and yet she immediately jumped to the conclusion that he'd done it and started behaving accordingly towards him. I do understand it based on what had happened with her sister, but still.

I do remember a lot more about the mysteries. Those were quite strong and memorable. I especially loved the way the truth about the red-headed girl was discovered, and what an intriguing story it was, too! As for the more modern mystery, it did suffer from the villain being pretty obvious, but what exactly had happened was unexpected and made perfect sense.

Something else that's stuck is the book's vivid portrayal of Ireland. The author doesn't fall into the trap of writing a time warp. Even though the setting is a remote country village, it still had an interesting mix of modernity and tradition. I've no idea how accurate it might be, since I've only been to Dublin and the Irish people I know are all pretty cosmopolitan, but I enjoyed it. Definitely not a wallpaper background. The local colour is extremely important to the action and enriches the whole book.


PS - This book sent me on a bout of internet research on bog bodies. I knew nothing about them, but have now discovered they're really amazing. I mean, just take a look at the photograph of the Tollund Man (scroll down a bit to the one of his face). Isn't it amazing? When I saw that I understood Nora's determination to find out more about her red-headed girl.


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