Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Haunted Ground

Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
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's review
Jan 22, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: finished, owned-and-gave-away
Read in August, 2003

Erin Hart, Haunted Ground (Scribner's, 2003)

Erin Hart's first novel, Haunted Ground, shows some of the hallmarks of a first novel, but fortunately sheds them as the pages turn, and we end up with quite a fine read here. If you picked this up and couldn't get past the first few pages, press on. Trust me on this.

The story revolves around an ensemble of characters, but the central two (who seem to be becoming a detective team, as Ms. Hart's website informs us that she is working on a second novel featuring them) are American expatriate Nora Gavin, who fled to her ancestors' home country after the murder of her sister, and Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire. The two of them meet at the site of the discovery of a new bog body (an archeological curiosity of natural bogs, in which bodies can stay perfectly preserved for hundreds of years as long as they're not exposed to the air), but this one has a twist; it's not a body, it's only a head. As they're uncovering it, an hysterical local arrives to find out if it's the head of his wife, who went missing a couple of years before. Despite themselves, and for very different reasons, Nora and Cormac find themselves working on the two parallel mysteries of the disappearance of Mina Osborne and her son in the present day and the identity of the head found in the bog.

There is a good deal of setup, much of it slow, in the first half of the novel. (This seems to be a common thread in the novels I've been reading recently, for some odd reason.) A little trimming could probably have cut thirty to forty pages of the setup, just by rearranging sentences, and made the book more readable. Thankfully, though, once it gets past the halfway point, Haunted Ground gets more compelling, and by the time I got to the last fifty pages, I was staying up late to keep reading. Because of the differing layers of the mystery, it would have been impossible to tie everything up at once, so the ending may seem a bit drawn-out, but at the end, all of the loose ends are tied, everything is resolved to everyone's satisfaction, and the book has turned out a lot better than the first half presaged. A very good debut from a promising new author. *** 1/2
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