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Haunted Ground    by Erin Hart order for
Haunted Ground
by Erin Hart
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Erin Hart's accomplished first mystery, Haunted Ground, will appeal to lovers of all things Irish - including Celtic music, the Gaelic language and the beautiful Irish countryside. As evidenced by its Malice Domestic nomination for Best First Mystery, it is also a well-conceived, well-written story.

It all begins when a farmer, collecting turf from a peat bog for fuel, discovers human remains. Dublin archaeologist Cormac Maguire and anatomy lecturer Nora Gavin are called in to carefully excavate the remains, which turn out to the head of young woman with eerily-preserved red hair (a 'cailin rua' or red girl in the Gaelic). They soon encounter local landowner Hugh Osborne, who rushes to the scene to see if the body is that of his wife who disappeared two years before. Cormac and Nora are intrigued by the rare bog body (which is not that of Osborne's Indian wife Mina) and its mysterious origins. Nora brings her own emotional baggage, since her red-haired sister was murdered several years before. Since Nora has always suspected her sister's abusive husband, she now immediately assumes that Hugh was responsible for his wife's disappearance.

When Hugh asks Cormac to conduct a small excavation prior to construction of a building, Nora jumps at the chance to join him. She convinces him they should do some sleuthing into both mysteries in their spare time. Staying at Hugh's large home, they encounter emotional turmoil in the household where Hugh lives with his cousin's widowed wife Lucy and her troubled teenage son Jeremy. Relations with their McGann neighbors (including Una, with whom Hugh may have a romantic relationship) are also strained. Cormac and Nora are not alone in their detective work, since local detective Garrett Devany is also investigating Mina Osborne's disappearance. It eventually turns out that there is both an ancient mystery in the cailin rua and a modern one in Mina Osborne's disappearance.

Those not familiar with Irish history will learn about the tumult of the mid-1600s when the English Cromwellian regime and the displacement of Catholics caused terrible times in Ireland. A love of Celtic music and fiddling is woven throughout the book with all the major characters involved in some way. Hart brings her own obvious love of this music to the story, including verses from several ballads. You can almost hear the Irish air played at a burial, 'the lament whose simple, dignified melody, contained the purest distillation of grief'. Readers interested in the various faces detective work can take, will enjoy the archaeological descriptions, the forensic tidbits on mitochondrial DNA and carbon dating, and the sleuthing through historical records.

Since Haunted Ground is such a promising debut, readers can anticipate more entertaining (and musical) Irish mysteries as Hart further polishes her writing skills.

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