THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN
By: Erin Hart
Scribner: New York
After a brief detour to the Twin Cities of
Minneapolis-St. Paul to hunt down the killer of her sister, Nora Gavin has
returned to her beloved Ireland and her even more beloved paramour,
archaeologist Cormac Maguire. Cormac and Nora are invited by Cormac’s old
friend Niall Dawson of the National Museum to travel to County Tipperary to
join the recovery efforts of a bog body accidentally unearthed in Killowen
Bog near the town of Birr.
Unlike their previous experiences with bog bodies that
had been discovered in situ, this situation was quite different:
this body, judged by the Chief State Pathologist to be between 500 and 1000
years old, was found in the boot (trunk) of an automobile sunk in the
bog—and entwined in the peat matrix with a very modern corpse, who had met
an untimely and violent death. While Nora, Cormac and Niall work to solve
the mystery of the ancient cadaver, detective Stella Cusack is charged with
solving the mystery of the contemporary murder victim and how the two bodies
came to be so intimately linked together.
Killowen Bog was abutted by three parcels of land—one
owned by the unsavory Vincent Claffey, a man known to involve himself in
shady deals for years; a second parcel owned by Anthony Beglan, a man whose
solitary lifestyle and speech impediment give the impression of diminished
mental abilities; and Killowen Farm, an artist colony, B&B, and working
farm, settled and operated for the past twenty years by Claire Finnerty.
The archaeology crew working under the auspices of the National Museum take
up residence at Killowen Farm and they soon become familiar and friendly
with the tight-knit group of artists and permanent residents of the communal
Detective Cusack’s investigations quickly establish
that the contemporary corpse is that of Benedict Kavanagh, host of an
intellectual television chat show and medieval historian. His program was
known for his tendency to viciously attack his guests’ views and to hold
them up to public ridicule—in other words, a man with plenty of enemies.
Nora and Cormac’s investigations of the ancient bog body do not lead to such
rapid conclusions, but slowly and meticulously they do tease out certain
possibilities. Artifacts found in association with the buried automobile,
among them a leather satchel, a stylus, and a tablet suggest he may have
been a scribe associated with the nearby medieval monastic ruins. Further
research brings to light the near-legendary Book of Killowen, a sacred tome
of great antiquity and of almost inestimable worth if still existed. The
existence of such a treasure could go a long way toward explaining the
deathly embrace of the two bog bodies separated by a thousand years.
The Book of Killowen is in a sense two novels
with a common theme; one tells of Detective Stella Cusack’s investigations
into the murder of Benedict Kavanagh and this is a competently portrayed
police procedural; the other is a vivid and fascinating depiction of the
excavation, recovery and investigation of an ancient bog body. Erin Hart
excels at this latter examination.
Inevitably the two investigations converge and it
becomes apparent that all of the potential suspects, from Vincent Claffey to
Anthony Beglan to all of the inhabitants of Killowen Farm have deeply held
secrets that, if exposed, could cause irreparable harm in so many ways and
could even betray the identity of a murderer—or perhaps more than one
Erin Hart has authored another fine mystery with two
very sympathetic protagonists, Nora and Cormac. What was missing in this
novel—especially when compared to her first two efforts, Haunted Ground
and Lake of Sorrows was her keen sense of place and a feel for
the beauty of Ireland and the rhythms of its people and its language.
Hopefully that might return in future installments of the adventures of Nora
Gavin and Cormac Maguire.
Three trowels for this very good archaeological
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