Haunted Ground

By Erin Hart

4 copies

The dazzling, award-winning debut in a series that delivers mystery, romance, suspense, and fascinating forensic detail

When farmers cutting turf in an Irish peat bog make a grisly discovery -- the perfectly preserved head of a young woman with long red hair -- Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin must use cutting-edge techniques to preserve ancient evidence. Because the bog's watery, acidic environment prevents decay, it's difficult to tell how long the red-haired girl has been buried -- two years, two centuries, or even much longer. Who is she? The extraordinary find leads to even more disturbing puzzles. The red-haired girl is not the only enigma in this remote corner of Galway. Two years earlier, Mina Osborne, the wife of a local landowner, went for a walk with her young son and vanished without a trace. Could they, too, be hidden in the bog's treacherous depths, only to be discovered centuries from now? Or did Hugh Osborne murder his family, as some villagers suspect? Bracklyn House, Osborne's stately home, holds many secrets, and Nora and Cormac's inquiries threaten to expose them all.

Cutting turf in the peat bogs of his Ireland farm, Brendan McGann occasionally finds old oak beams, oxcarts or tubs of butter and cheese buried ages ago and forgotten. But he's hardly prepared for the gruesome discovery he makes one pleasant April morning: the perfectly preserved head of a woman. So begins Hart's debut thriller, which follows archeologist Cormac Maguire, maverick local detective Garret Devaney, and Nora Gavin, an American anatomist lecturing at Trinity College Medical School, as they investigate the farmer's grisly finding, which could date back quite far, given that peat bogs can preserve bodies for centuries. Cormac and Nora stay in the house of Hugh Osborne, the owner of a decaying manor who also happens to be the prime suspect in the unsolved disappearance of his wife and infant son two years ago. The accommodations are not quite the Ritz. Osborne's dour cousin, Lucy Osborne, is the housekeeper, and her son, 17-year-old Jeremy, who drinks too much, also lurks around the estate. Nora finds a filthy, dead crow on her bed, as well as broken glass littering her bathroom floor. What's going on in this malevolent household? In addition to a complex, multilayered plot that involves both contemporary and historical crimes, Hart's novel is rich in local color: evenings at the pub, the petty feuds and jealousies of the townspeople and the traditional music and folk culture of Ireland are evocatively rendered.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Two brothers "cutting turf" from a peat bog in the Irish countryside discover the head of a beautiful red-haired woman, decapitated and perfectly preserved in the decay-resistant bog. Who is she, and how long has her head been in the ground? Irish archaeologist Cormac Macguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin are summoned from Dublin to help answer those questions, but soon they are immersed in another mystery: Will the bodies of the recently disappeared wife and son of the local landowner, Hugh Osborne, also be found in the depths of Drumcleggan bog? And did Osborne put them there, as many local villagers suspect? First-novelist Hart follows her gripping set-piece opening (evoking the bodies-in-the-snow tableau from Gorky Park) with an utterly beguiling mix of village mystery, gothic suspense, and psychological thriller. Just as Macguire and Gavin are drawn into, first, the mystery of the red-haired girl and, second, the question of Osborne's guilt or innocence, so Hart draws us into, first, life in the small Galway village near where the girl was found and, finally, the insular world of Bracklyn House, family home of the Osbornes (think Manderley in Rebecca). Atmosphere is all in this detail-rich novel, from the traditional Irish music that not only plays in the background but also helps drive the plot (Hart is a founder of Minnesota's Irish Music and Dance Association) to the fascinating snippets of history concerning peat bogs, archaeological methodology, and the devastating effects on the Irish people of the Cromwellian resettlement in the seventeenth century. Simultaneously, Hart breathes life into local history the way Graham Swift did in Waterland; reinvents the du Maurier formula for gothic suspense; and brings new texture and psychological acuity to the usual suspects from the generic village mystery. In every way, this is a debut to remember. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association.
From Amazon Books 11/22/11
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