LAKE OF SORROWS
By: Erin Hart
Scribner, New York
Last year I reviewed Erin Hart's initial entry into the
realm of archaeology/mystery fiction, Haunted Ground, and raved about her
potential. Lake of Sorrow is her second novel and I'm elated to report that
she has exceeded my expectations. Her protagonists, pathologist Nora Gavin
and her sometime-lover archaeologist Cormac Maguire, are more deftly
portrayed than in Haunted Ground; the texture of County Offaly, just west of
Dublin, is richly rendered, and the mystery of the bog bodies discovered in
Loughnabrone (Lake of Sorrow) is both fascinating and frightening.
Minneapolis-reared Nora is back in Ireland, summoned to help investigate the
discovery of an Iron Age bog body, a victim of the legendary "triple
death"-death by garroting, throat slitting and drowning-to meet the demands
of the ancient gods. Almost simultaneously another bog body is discovered
nearby-garroted, throat slit, and drowned-and wearing a wristwatch! The
mystery grows more deadly as the body of archaeologist Ursula Downes is
found drowned in her bathtub, her throat slit and a garrote around her neck.
These three violent deaths, separated by only miles geographically, but by
millennia in time, seem to have as a unifying element the cult of human
sacrifice common to many pre-historic cultures. Yet for Nora and police
detective Liam Ward, the common thread for the two contemporary crimes lead
them to more prosaic possibilities: the lingering mystery of the
Loughnabrone hoard, a collection of Iron Age artifacts discovered some
decades earlier, or possibly the wonton lifestyle of Ursula Downes.
Nonetheless, the possibility of a renewal of the cult of sacrifice,
practiced by some dangerous and deranged individual close to the
Loughnabrone dig remains a very real alternate answer to the killings.
As in her earlier Haunted Ground, Erin Hart description of the Irish bog
country is evocative of that beautifully barren landscape. But her improved
skills as a writer are most noticeable as she plumbs the depths of the
psyches of her main characters. In elegant prose she explores Nora's
continuing obsession over her sister's death back in America (surely to be
explored at greater length in a future novel), the agonies of the Brazil
family, who have long depended upon the peat bogs for their livelihoods and
who may be intimately involved in the life and death of the second bog body,
the personal tragedies of detective Liam Ward that have haunted him, and
even the existential secrets that seem to swirl around Cormac.
This is a novel well worth reading - well worth buying in hardcover, in
fact-for all those who like their mysteries intricately woven, their
protagonists and antagonists complex, their sense of place realistic, and
their archaeology informative.
Lake of Sorrows gets four trowels.
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