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Review: Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

haunted ground erin heart Review: Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

Blurb:When farmers cutting turf in a peat bog make a grisly discovery the perfectly preserved severed head of a young woman with long red hair Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin team up in a case that will open old wounds.

Peat bogs prevent decay, so the decapitated young woman could have been buried for two decades, two centuries, or even much longer. Who is she? When was she killed? The extraordinary find leads to even more disturbing puzzles. The red-haired girl is clearly a case for the archaeologists, not the police. Still, her tale may have shocking ties to the present, and Cormac and Nora must use cutting-edge techniques to preserve ancient evidence.

And the red-haired girl is not the only enigma in this remote corner of Galway. Two years earlier, Mina Osborne, the local landowners Indian-born wife, went for a walk with her young son and never returned. Did Mina simply decide to disappear, or did mother and child become lost in the treacherous bog? Could they, too, be hidden in its depths, only to be discovered centuries from now? Or did the landowner, Hugh Osborne, murder his family, as some villagers suspect?

I have to admit this book was a rather unintentional read: I picked it'up whilst travelling in Malaysia, having, run out of material to read'after a few days spent lazing about on a beach in Kota Kinabalu. It was'one of only a few English language books on offer in a Malay-language'bookshop, and was positioned rather beguilingly between Malay versions'of Harry Potter and Twilight. (Perhaps the bookshop attendant was making'some small claim to its potential to be a bestseller.) Regardless, its'blurb spoke of bog bodies, Irish music, and a modern day murder, three'things that for some reason set my little readerly heart aflutter. A'mere train trip to a small country town later, and I was sadly flipping'through the last few pages, returning from chilly Ireland with its thick'food and thicker accents to a humid Malaysian train carriage that offered instead a'television blaring a karaoke channel and the ripe-garbage smell'of durian.

Haunted Earth is a debut novel, and despite the fact that spoke to a'number of my interests, I have to admit that my expectations were'initially rather low. And while for the first few chapters this seemed'to be a justified position, I was rather quickly disabused of my snooty'position. Haunted Earth is quite the decent read indeed.

Our setting is Galway, Ireland, a place of damp bogs and mires, of thick'grass fed by constant drizzling rain. The local pub offers warm respite,'with locals coming together for a wee tipple, some jaunty reels, and a'bit of gossip, all of which serve as key social lubricants in a village'that scarcely warrants a dot on the map. But as is always the case in such communities, all manner of complex, challenging stories lie just beneath the surface, barely latent, waiting to be nudged into salience. 'And such a precipitating event occurs when a local farmer, digging up the peat around his property, unearths a decapitated head, prompting the arrival of archaeologist Cormac Maguire and forensic expert Nora Gavin. But the grisly discovery is not only of historical interest: the incident spurs local police officer Garrett Devaney to resume his search for local woman Mina Osborne, whose disappearance some two years ago remains a mystery. What follows is a carefully layered thriller involving multiple mysteries that stretch in a fascinatingly diachronic manner.

Devaney, however, is not the only character driven to obsession by Osbornes appearance. Nora is already dealing with demons of her own: she is haunted by her sisters recent brutal murder, and by the fact that the courts have failed to bring the killer, her husband, to justice. Feeling frustrated and impotent by the resulting legal stalemate, she not only throws herself into the investigation of the artefact, but begins to seek answers regarding the disappearance of Mina Osborne, a case that she begins to find eerily parallels her own experience. Her investigations, however, dangerously bring her into the paths of sombre Peter Osborne, prime suspect in his wifes disappearance, and the strange and vindictive Jeremy and Lucy Osborne, both of whom seem beset with problems of their own.

While the solution to the mystery seems obvious enough, Hart does an excellent job of confounding the reader. The truth about Mine Osbornes disappearance is cleverly obfuscated behind a careful rendering of complex townsfolk relationships and confused hearsay, but in retrospect is neatly alluded to throughout the narrative. Harts depiction of rural Ireland is detailed and rich, full of Irish folklore and superstition, and she works to create a believable backstory for even the most minor of characters. The relationship between Cormac and Nora is also nicely drawn, with no shortage of tension, but yet none of the sudden coupling that is so often used to (if youll pardon the pun) signal the imminent climax and denouement of a mystery. Unfortunately, the novel does suffer from some pacing issues, particularly in the first few chapters, and again at the end. Were treated to a several-page-long confession that rather detracts from the carefully plotted and subtle mystery, and the final pages do stretch out as the mystery regarding the bog body artefact is painstakingly (and rather too coincidentally) wrapped up. This is a shame, as it detracts from what is otherwise'an admirably accomplished first novel. 'Still, Im certainly interested to see where Hart takes the subsequent volumes in his promising new series. Fans of sophisticated cozy mysteries will find a lot to enjoy here.

200px 3.5 stars.svg  Review: Haunted Ground by Erin Hart

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  1. Sounds like an interesting and cozy read!

  2. Steph /

    It certainly is, and its quite a change from the cozies Ive been reading of late! The archaeology facts Hart drops in are quite fascinating but easily accessible to a layperson reader like me. :)