Nora Gavin is on her way to County Offaly in the Irish midlands to examine a bog body found during peat excavation, a body carrying all the signs of having suffered a triple death. The peat bog has preserved the body, as it does with all remains within its depths, but the clock began ticking as soon as the body was exposed to air, and Nora and the museum staff must step in quickly to preserve the body. Shortly after her arrival at the site, a second body is found also bearing the signs of triple death – only this one is wearing a wristwatch.
Still haunted by her sister’s gruesome murder, Nora had hoped this time in the midlands would offer her the chance to tell her lover, archaeologist Cormac Maguire, that she was leaving to return to the United States. Now however, Nora is just hoping to save Cormac from a murder charge - and keep them both alive.
Erin Hart burst onto the mystery scene in 2003 with her multiple award-winning novel, Haunted Ground. In her second novel featuring Nora Gavin, Lake of Sorrows, Hart returns to the bogs for another look at local history, buried secrets, and Irish music. Hart creates her multi-layered plots by weaving together archaeology, folklore, local history, and well-crafted characters. Lake of Sorrows is a moody book, carrying in it a feeling of isolation and despair. Hart has an uncanny ability to craft a setting so real that readers will expect to smell peat smoke in the air.
A peat bog is harsh and unforgiving to the life that exists within its boundaries. A single misstep can lead to a slow, agonizing death, with the body preserved for centuries in the depths. Illaunafulla (Island of Blood), the bog surrounding the excavation, holds many secrets within its layers, and the release of these secrets have profound effect on the residents of this region.
In an interview with Hennepin County Library, Hart shares that she loves “to write stories that have layers of meaning – significant images that are repeated, ideas and themes that might make readers think…I grew up reading Dickens and Jane Austen and Dostoyevsky, so I tend to like dense, complicated crime novels with an historical or philosophical element and interesting psychological twists.”
One of the main themes in Lake of Sorrows is sacrifice, explored most obviously in the triple death used by Iron Age pagans and the body Nora has traveled to study. The triple death is a sacrifice to appease the pagan triple deities; the victim was hanged or strangled and their throat cut, then he or she was buried or staked down in a watery place. One theory is that ritual sacrifices were made at times of great stress and conflict within the society. By raising the theory that the modern body found at Loughnabrone is the victim of a ritual sacrifice, Hart adds an undertone of unease to Lake of Sorrows.
Every action taken by characters having the remotest connection to folk tradition or pagan religion, cause readers to wonder if there is a deeper meaning attached. In Lake of Sorrows, ancient practice does not feel far removed from the modern day. Readers can easily be excused for questioning whether Hart has found a way to bring merge history with the present day, for the veil separating the ages appears to have vanished, creating a world which quickly enmeshes the reader.