Zarina's Reviews > False Mermaid

False Mermaid by Erin Hart
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's review
Mar 24, 2010

really liked it

I became a fan of Erin Hart's writing after reading Haunted Ground: A Novel which had as its central character American forensic pathologist Nora Gavin, and the story in Haunted Ground was set in Ireland, centering around the mystery of a decapitated head belonging to a flame-haired lass nicknamed the Cailin Rua found in a peat bog. Together with Irish archaeologist Cormac Macguire, the pair attempt to solve the mystery, whilst finding themselves involved in another mystery of a missing mother and son. Then in Lake of Sorrows: A Novel, Nora and Cormac are back, once again investigating bodies found in the Irish peat bogs.

In "False Mermaid", Nora returns to the United States, having come to the realization that she can only find peace of mind once she resolves what actually happened to her younger sister, Triona, who was found murdered in St. Paul a couple of years back. Nora is convinced that it was Triona's husband, Peter Hallett, who is responsible, though she needs to find compelling evidence. Peter has since moved on and remarried Miranda Staunton, the sister of Nora's ex-fiance. Nora is particularly concerned about the welfare of her young niece, 11-year-old Elizabeth. Some people from Nora's past are also featured here such as police detective Frank Cordova who still has a thing for Nora.

Back in Ireland, Cormac hopes to be together with Nora, but his father's illness proves a strong deterrent, and then he gets intrigued by studies of Irish folklore conducted by a female acquaintance, Roz. The focus of the study is on the selkie, a mythical creature, part-human and part-seal. Interestingly, there's a local story about a woman who was reputed to be a selkie who disappeared sometime in 1896, believed to have been murdered by her husband. This parallels Nora's own beliefs about her brother-in-law's guilt in her sister's murder.

Just as in her previous novels, this book is rich in atmosphere as well as in-depth characterizations. Though the story itself may seem rather complex, Ms. Hart credibly weaves the various story arcs together. The two main settings, St. Paul and Ireland are vividly portrayed, which further enhance the story. However, despite all these strengths, there is one complaint on my part - the fact that Nora's investigation seems to be helped along mainly by coincidences. This gets to the point where it seems almost incredulous (if she is able to find all these helpful bits of info, how is it that they were not as easily found five years ago?). It also seemed rather remiss on the part of the detectives investigating the case to have missed all these clues in the first place. I also found myself missing the lush descriptions of the Irish landscape which were bountiful in the previous two novels (which were set entirely in Ireland).This particular installment favors the American setting more, and Ireland itself is not covered much. Yet, on the whole, I enjoyed this novel as I did the previous two mainly because I love atmospheric mysteries, especially those with a supernatural/otherworldly element as this one is. The rich elements of folklore, i.e. of the mythical selkie make this an engaging read.

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