You know how it is. Years ago you read a book you REALLY liked, then the sequel, which you also really liked. Then… years pass and you realize that this author has written another two novels, all featuring the same characters, all part of a series!
In part four of this series of blog posts I’m talking about Erin Hart‘s great series featuring archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin. This series introduced me to the fascinating subject of ‘bog bodies‘, which is just one of the reasons it was memorable and highly recommended.
There is nothing quite like the pleasure of discovering a new series that really grips you from the beginning, and the first novel in this atmospheric mystery series does just that. This is a series that combines forensics, history, archaeology, and suspense.
While visiting friends in Ireland one summer, the author heard an intriguing tale about a beautiful red-haired girl whose perfectly preserved severed head was discovered in a desolate Irish bog. That true story was the inspiration for her debut novel, HAUNTED GROUND, the first in a planned series of crime novels set mostly in Ireland, revolving around archaeology, forensics, history, traditional music and folklore. HAUNTED GROUND was nominated for Anthony and Agatha awards, won Romantic Times Best First Mystery and the Friends of American Writers Award, and has been translated into ten foreign languages, as was the second novel in the series, LAKE OF SORROWS, which was published in October 2004, and also shortlisted for a Minnesota Book Award. The third novel in the series, FALSE MERMAID, was named by ALA/Booklist as one of the top ten crime novels of 2010. THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN, number four in the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series, was published in March 2013, and was also a Minnesota Book Award finalist.
Meticulously crafted, and resonating with traditional music and folklore, HAUNTED GROUND, the wonderful first novel in this series, considers Ireland’s turbulent history, revealing the eternal, subliminal connections between past and present.
Two farmers cutting turf in the west of Ireland make a grisly discovery—the perfectly preserved severed head of a beautiful young woman with long red hair. Called out to the bog to investigate, Irish archeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin are thrown together by their shared curiosity about her fate.
Archaeologist Cormac Maguire is quickly called to the scene—”bog bodies” are always a remarkable find, sometimes centuries old but still close to their original condition. Cormac and Nora embark on a mission to determine the identity of the beautiful young woman and what led to her brutal fate.
But there are other mysteries buried within this small Irish town as well. Villagers are still suspicious of Hugh Osborne, a local landowner whose wife and young son disappeared abruptly two years ago without a trace. As Cormac and Nora dig into the background of the enigmatic redhead, policeman Garrett Devaney quietly reopens the Osborne case. As deeper layers of secrets are revealed in each mystery, sleeping dangers are awakened, and past deaths could translate into future murders.
In the second book in the series, “LAKE OF SORROWS“, American pathologist Nora Gavin has come to the Irish midlands to examine a body unearthed by peat workers at a desolate spot known as the Lake of Sorrows. As with all the artifacts culled from its prehistoric depths, the bog has effectively preserved the dead man’s remains, and his multiple wounds suggest he was the victim of the ancient pagan sacrifice known as the triple death. But signs of a more recent slaying emerge when a second body, bearing a similar wound pattern, is found — this one sporting a wristwatch. Someone has come to this quagmire to sink their dreadful handiwork — and Nora soon realizes that she is being pulled deeper into the land and all it holds: the secrets to a cache of missing gold, a tumultuous love affair with archeologist Cormac Maguire, the dark mysteries and desires of the workers at the site, and a determined killer fixated on the gruesome notion of triple death.
The third novel in the series, “FALSE MERMAID“, Erin Hart combines her page-turning storytelling skills and deep knowledge of Ireland and Irish myth with a Minnesota setting close to her heart.
Nora Gavin remains haunted by a cold case that nearly cost her sanity five years ago: her sister Tríona’s brutal murder. After failing to bring the killer to justice, Nora fled to Ireland, throwing herself into her work and taking the first tentative steps in a new relationship with Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire. She’s driven home by unwelcome news: Tríona’s husband—and the prime suspect in her murder—is about to remarry. Nora is determined to succeed this time, even if it means confronting unsettling secrets. As she digs ever closer to the truth, the killer zeroes in on Tríona’s young daughter, Elizabeth.
Back in Ireland, Cormac Maguire heads north to visit his ailing father, and hears the tale of a local woman who vanished a hundred years ago. Was she a seal-maiden who returned to the sea, or was some more sinister force at work in her disappearance?
Caught up in parallel mysteries, Cormac and Nora wrestle with identity, suspicion, truth and falsehood, and of course the biggest riddle of all—will they have a chance at a life together, or will tragedies of the past continue to keep them apart?
In the fourth novel in the series, “THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN“, an ancient volume of philosophical heresy provides a motive for murder in this haunting, lyrical novel of forensics, archeology, and history.
After a year away from working in the field, archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin are back in the bogs, investigating a ninth-century body found buried in the trunk of a car. They discover that the ancient corpse is not alone—pinned beneath it is the body of Benedict Kavanagh, missing for mere months and familiar to television viewers as a philosopher who enjoyed destroying his opponents in debate. Both men were viciously murdered, but centuries apart—so how did they end up buried together in the bog?
While on the case, Cormac and Nora lodge at Killowen, a nearby artists’ colony and organic farm and sanctuary for eccentric souls. Digging deeper into the older crime, they become entangled in high-stakes intrigue encompassing Kavanagh’s death while surrounded by suspects in his ghastly murder. It seems that everyone at Killowen has some secret to protect.
Set in modern-day Ireland, The Book of Killowen delves deep into the mysteries of the past, revealing a new twist on the power of language—and on the eternal mysteries of good and evil.
If you’ve never read this author, and you enjoy atmospheric mysteries, I urge you to give her a try. With only four titles in the series, it is one you could find time for.
Having trouble pronouncing those Irish names? Erin Hart has kindly provided some help!
Because this series is mostly set in Ireland and features Irish folklore, history, and culture, I am including it in my “Reading Ireland Month” posts.
Before writing crime fiction, Erin trained to become a theater director, and has been variously employed as a stage manager, prop-master, editor and copywriter, writing teacher, journalist and theater critic. Born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and raised in Rochester, Minnesota, Erin was educated at Saint Olaf College and the University of Minnesota.
Erin lives in Minnesota with her husband, Irish button accordion player Paddy O’Brien. They make frequent visits to Ireland, going to music sessions, and carrying out essential research in bogs and cow pastures and castles and pubs.
Erin Hart is a member of the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.