An Irish farmer gets a shock when, while cutting peat for winter fuel, his spade turns up the perfectly preserved head of a young woman with long red hair. Archeologist Cormac Maguire is quickly called to the scene along with his American colleague, pathologist Nora Gavin, as "bog bodies" are something of a rarity. As peat bogs have the remarkable property of preventing decay, it means that Cormac and Nora have a grisly mystery on their hands to solve.
For a while, local policeman Devaney suspects that the head may belong to Mina, the missing wife of local gentry Hugh Osborne, but this is soon ruled out. Mina and her young son had disappeared one day in what is thought to have been the work of a local serial killer, but Devaney and most of the villagers suspect Hugh was somehow involved. When Nora learns about this present-day mystery, it arouses strong emotions in her -- she came to Ireland after losing a hard-fought battle to prove that her brother-in-law had murdered her sister.
Soon Cormac and Nora are deeply involved in solving both mysteries, and their investigations stir up other mysteries buried within this small Irish town. Meanwhile, in spite of being forbidden to do so by his superior, policeman Devaney quietly reopens the Osborne case. Their combined exploration is making someone very antsy, and soon they find themselves in great danger.
Erin Hartís Haunted Ground is an engaging and irresistible read, and it is hard to believe that this book is her debut effort. Hart sets the story in a tiny village in Ireland, and not only does she accurately capture the local atmosphere but also makes it suitably fey and gothic. So evocative are the descriptions that the readers can almost smell the peat, feel the soggy bogs and hear the lilting tunes floating in the air, as well feel chilled by the oppressive and menacing aura pervading the whole story. The characters are some of the most well-constructed Iíve ever read -- not just the main protagonists but almost every side character also takes a definite shape. Hart does this by describing what makes her characters tick: their pasts and their hobbies as well as their motivations. She does so simply and subtly but to great effect. A touch of romance softens the book up a bit. The mystery is also very good, and though the solution seems obvious, Hart takes some devious plot twists which keep the reader guessing. The authorís research is in-depth and enough scientific details are provided to lend authenticity to the whole story. Greatly enjoyable, Haunted Ground is a must-read for any mystery buff.