Saturday, October 15, 2011

Haunted Ground: Review

Haunted Ground by Erin Hart is my last entry for the R.I.P. Challenge. I'm substituting it for Ghostly Tales & Sinister Stories of Old Edinburgh--which sounded good at the time, but wound up being an inexpertly cobbled-together collection of very short and dry snippets of fables, legends and ghost stories. Not a bit interesting and I just couldn't see myself reading almost 200 pages of it.

The Hart novel, on the other hand, is an extremely good first novel. Haunted Ground begins with an Irish farmer cutting turf in a peat bog and finding more than he bargained for. The square of peat that he removes reveals a perfectly preserved head of a red-haired young woman. The local police call in Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin to work on the site and find out how long the bog has kept its secret. The searchers are unable to find the rest of the woman's remains. While the search is going on, local landowner Hugh Osborne shows up dazed and wondering if the woman is his missing wife.
It's been two years since Hugh's young, Indian-born wife Mina and the couple's son Christopher disappeared without a trace. Rumors are divided between Mina having been unable to cope with Hugh's philandering ways and taking off with Christopher OR that Hugh is the villain of the piece and has disposed of the bodies in some cunning fashion. Perhaps in one of the convenient bogs? Cormac believes Hugh's grief and disorientation to be real, but Nora is none too sure.

As Cormac and Nora continue their investigation they find themselves involved not only in the mystery of the red-haired woman: Who was she? When and why was she killed? but also embroiled in the modern-day disappearance. If Hugh killed Mina for the insurance money (as many believe) why would he hide the bodies so well? Surely he would want them found sooner rather than later? And if the husband didn't do it, then who did? And who is trying to warn them off the case? It becomes obvious that there are many secrets hidden the boggy area--and not all of them are centuries old.

Garrett Devaney is the local policeman on the Osborne case. His superiors have turned the inquiry over to a team in Dublin, but he refuses to let sleeping dogs lie. He knows that the original investigation must have missed something and, contrary to instructions, he keeps digging on his own time. Eventually, his investigation dovetails with the work of Maguire and Gavin...for a very interesting finale.

This was a great read and very nicely done for the author's first outing. As several Goodreads reviews have mentioned, the beginning is a bit slow, but once I made it to the second half--I whizzed right through that last 200 pages and could not go to sleep last night before I finished it. Lots of twists and turns and the historical mystery is woven into the narrative in a fairly seamless manner. Plenty of historical and archeological detail without bogging down the story (sorry, I couldn't resist!). The only minor quibble I have is how conveniently all the threads are tied up. There is a fair amount of lucky happenstance there at the end--regarding the mystery of the red-haired woman. It's almost too much to swallow that so much information would just happen to be preserved. But....a little suspension of disbelief never hurt anyone in the reading realm. Three and 3/4 stars--nearly a full four (which I will go ahead and give it in Goodreads).


J F Norris said...

I heard Erin Hart speak at Bouchercon. I had never heard of her books and I grabbed a bookmark listing all her current titles as a reminder to seek out her work. She's one of many newly discovered Bouchercon authors I intend to check out. This review may urge me to find her books sooner than planned. Thanks!

Bev Hankins said...

Hope you enjoy her, John. When I can fit it in, I plan on reading the next in the series.