In Erin Hart’s much-welcome third mystery, False Mermaid, pathologist Nora Gavin feels compelled to return to the States to investigate the five-year-old murder of her younger sister, Triona. It was Nora’s despair over that death, and her inability to pin it on Triona’s husband, Peter Hallett, that drove Nora to return to Ireland, her childhood home. Now Peter is remarrying, and Nora is determined—driven—to prove his guilt, even though it means temporarily leaving Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and their deepening relationship.
In Minnesota, Nora reconnects with Detective Frank Cordova, the original investigator still plagued by both the cold case and his interest—unrequited—in Nora. Cordova is as willing as she to focus on Peter, and as frustrated by their failure to link him to the murder. Wanting to prove her theory, and protect her niece Elizabeth, now 11, Nora pleads with Peter’s new wife to see what she is getting into. She is met with icy refusal and the same accusations Peter levels: that crazy Nora is still after him. Worse, the pair insist that Nora did not really know her younger sister, and that Triona’s own risky behavior led to her death.
But when another woman’s body is found, in the riverside park where Triona often ran and where evidence suggests she was killed, Nora believes Peter has struck again. Through her expertise in bog bodies—the remains are preserved in Ireland’s ancient bogs—and her contacts in the forensic community, Nora discovers the reverse: whoever the killer was, Triona was not the first victim. Working with Frank to review evidence old and new, Nora gets closer than ever to the proof she craves—and is led back to Ireland, where the old legend of the selkie might cast light on her sister’s death.
Erin Hart’s Haunted Ground (2003) was nominated for an Agatha and an Anthony for Best First Novel. Once again, Irish music, myth and history are integral to setting, character and even plot. The reader will find herself almost believing, along with Elizabeth and Triona, in the ancient stories of the selkies, humans on land and seals in the sea.
Leslie Budewitz sometimes sings Irish folk songs in her car while driving around western Montana.