Erin Hart’s fourth novel in her acclaimed Nora Gavin series blends Irish legend and archaeology with present-day murder in a sad tale tinged with sweetness. In The Book of Killowen, American pathologist Nora and Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire are building a quiet life together in Ireland, healing Nora’s wounds and caring for Cormac’s elderly father, Joseph. Absent for much of his son’s childhood, Joseph is now suffering from a stroke, his ability to speak frustratingly garbled. When a bog body is found in Tipperary, near Killowen Bog, the trio and Joseph’s new caregiver move to Killowen Farm, a nearly idyllic retreat center and artist’s colony, to take over the excavation.
But the bog body has a modern companion—a murder victim. Detective Stella Cusack is eager to solve the crime, and the string of incidents that follow it, before losing the case to higher ups. Fortunately, her assistant has the experience with antiquities that she lacks. The murdered man’s identity is quickly discovered, and suspicions center on his estranged wife and her companion, frequent guests at Killowen Farm. But despite his brilliance, he had no shortage of faults—or enemies.
While Cusack untangles the secrets of the residents and neighbors, and their ties to the victim, Nora and Cormac study the treasures found with Bog Man for clues to his identity and his relationship to an ancient scriptorium once located nearby. Could he be the mysterious 9th-century philosopher and author of the controversial Book of Killowen? And where is the book? New secrets touch on the old, leading to blackmail and fiery danger.
The first book in the Nora Gavin series, Haunted Ground (2003), was nominated for Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. In The Book of Killowen—Killowen means “Church of Owen”—Hart explores not only the mysteries of the Irish bogs, but also the ancient and modern mysteries of language and the power of secrets. Hart’s own language sings with sharp and powerful observations, of what she calls “characters in the great book of human events.” Pour yourself a Guinness, or brew a pot of tea, and dig in.
Leslie Budewitz’s debut mystery, Death al Dente, first in The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, will be published by Berkley Prime Crime in August 2013.