Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on False Mermaid.
Masterfully blending murder and myth, Hart’s stunning novel reaches from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Donegal, Ireland, embracing the ancient selkie myths of women who shed their seal skins to marry humans, only later to return once more to the sea. Forensic pathologist Nora Gavin lost her sister, Triona Hallett, to a violent murder in St. Paul five years ago. Nora has been in Ireland researching how peat bogs preserve bodies years after death, hoping to apply her knowledge to Triona’s case. After Triona’s death, her husband, Peter Hallett, left Minnesota for Seattle with their six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Now Peter and Elizabeth have returned for Hallett’s impending marriage. The newlyweds plan to honeymoon in Ireland, just as Peter did with Triona.
With only fragments of information - a brief phone call from her sister before the murder and a hastily whispered sentence (“Isn’t it shocking, what you’d do when you love someone?”), blood-stained clothes hidden in a secret place in Triona’s childhood bedroom, Triona’s movements the last day of her life - Nora has little new evidence to offer the one police detective who believes her story, a man with his own demons to fight. But Nora is determined and foolish, tracked by a stranger and caught in situations that put her in grave danger. Like Nora, the reader doesn’t doubt Peter’s guilt, but with scant supportive evidence, Nora is on shaky ground legally. Impulsively she stalks into danger with a vengeance, worried only for the safety of her niece and Peter’s future bride.
The chapters on Ireland are prefaced by selkie myths and songs that have survived through generations, crimes unsolved, the music and magic of the island ringing with history. Nora returns to St. Paul to rescue Elizabeth, conscious of danger on every side and the real possibility that a young girl will not believe her father capable of the murder of the mother she barely remembers. Once begun, the plot moves quickly from suspicion to murderous intention, Peter Hallett untouchable, his eyes as cold and knowing as the grave.
The characters are richly drawn, from a homeless man wearing a blood-stained sweatshirt to a wanna-be policeman who walks his private beat at night and watches carefully as Nora traces Triona’s movements on her last day of life. Menace arrives swiftly and without warning, Nora reverting to pure instinct as Elizabeth teeters on the edge of the wild Irish coast. Death waits nearby, brutal and swift, in a novel filled with Irish music and myth and the black heart of a murderer.