Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on False Mermaid.
Leaving behind Ireland and her archaeologist friend Cormac Maguire, Nora Gavin returns home to Minneapolis with the shattered images of the past
several years invading her thoughts and dreams. Nora just can’t seem to exorcise the haunting mirage of her sister, Triona, her lifeless body in the city morgue flanked by detectives, her coils of long red hair and her features so brutally disarranged.
Even after a five-year limbo, Nora is sure that Triona’s husband, handsome Peter Hallett, was responsible for her sister’s death. Nora remembers the final terrified phone call that fateful night: “I’ve done things too, unspeakable things, I’ve lied and deceived everyone."
She also recalls the strange tone to Triona’s voice, the bottle of liquid ecstasy found in her purse after her death, the glazed look in her eyes and the ugly rumors about the true nature of her marriage to Peter, along with the warped creature that she was sure
lived inside of him.
Over the years, Peter has been an island of calm and self-possession in the eye of the storm, convincingly denying any involvement in his wife's death. Still, Nora remains convinced of
his guilt. With the case swimming back from a dim, dark and distant memory, Nora finds herself pulled back into the orbit of Triona's last days, looking for any loose threads among the forensic details and the facts that she never had the guts to tell anyone, least of all Cormac.
Hart sets Nora on solid ground in False Mermaid. Heavily atmospheric, the author's chilly Irish myths clash with Minneapolis’s “walls of humidity,” where a black ash swamp reveals yet another body
- twenty-two-year-old Natalie Russo, who was also murdered five years ago. Like Triona, Natalie
suffered severe facial trauma. Suddenly a penetrating atmosphere of peril seems to pervade Nora’s journey as she
is thrust back into the trajectory of damaged Frank Cordova, the lead investigator in Triona‘s case who once wrestled her away from Triona’s body.
The novel is filled with devious plot threads: Cormac and his ailing father; their friend Roz with her old stories of humans and seals that perhaps mask a darker reality;
and a homeless man in a stained sweatshirt, hiding conceivably important evidence that proves her sister’s life was forever altered.
Like an addled plot-line of a dream, a number of strange encounters pile up, proving that Nora may be wrong about her sister, especially when Triona appears like a “digital specter,” strangely beckoning to Nora from deep beyond the grave.
Peter Hallett’s hidden, contradictory sides are elusive to the last - even when vengeance is always on his mind. Perhaps only Elisabeth, Triona’s precious daughter, her life full of “hazy memories,” can unlock the puzzle. Hart’s characters
balance on a razor’s edge, especially Nora as she closes in upon old secrets and the recognition that although Triona really loved Peter, he probably used that love to destroy her.
The desolate beaches and the soaring cliffs of Ireland provide a dramatic backdrop to a violent reckoning, the finale sending a cold knife down Nora’s spine as she
is forced to reconcile the bitter truths about Peter and Triona, two damaged people who skirted the very edges of morality.