Tuesday, June 28, 2011

False Mermaid by Erin Hart

Published by Scribner

In this the third instalment of the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire mystery series, Nora, a pathologist, has returned from Ireland to Minnesota with the firm intent to finally prove her brother-in-law Peter Hallett guilty of murdering her sister five years earlier. She is very concerned now that her niece is older that she will be in danger from her father as well. She renews her connection with Frank Cordova, the police investigator who was one of the few who believed her, not realizing he believes she is reconnecting on a personal level as well. Nora is shocked to learn that her ex-boyfriend's sister Miranda is about to marry Peter and go to Ireland for their honeymoon. She is afraid that he will kill her the same as he did Triona.

Erin Hart has a wonderful sense of the mystical history of Ireland and how to weave the songs and lore of the islands into her stories whether in Ireland or America. In this book the folklore is mostly tied to the traditional Celtic Selkie stories, and one in particular. The Selkie traditionally is a seal that can change into a human by taking off her sealskin, but if her sealskin is taken, she is trapped in her human form. This is the basis of the legend in this book. The author's descriptions are beautiful, lyrical, and mystical, or they are vivid, harsh, and irrefutable, according to time and place. In other words, her writing is truly atmospheric. Nora and Frank find more evidence pointing to Peter, but there is always something cross-contaminating evidence just enough to blur the facts. Two witnesses are discovered, but the only people they have seen are women. Why would that be? Who is coming to the scene of the crime and what is the connection with another body found three weeks before Triona with the same cause of death and the same distinctive clues? Where do the witnesses fit into the scenario?

As always, Erin builds on the history, mystery and many connections, linking them all together and binding them tight. The tension mounts as Nora and her niece Elizabeth become targeted when Nora returns to Ireland. She has returned to rescue her after learning that not only did Peter and Miranda insist on taking Elizabeth with them on their honeymoon instead of leaving her with Nora's parents as planned, but a phone call from her neighbor in Dublin has alerted her that Elizabeth ran away from the airport when the plane landed in Ireland and they will keep her safe until Nora gets there..

There is an on-going thread about seals throughout the story that takes us from Pacific Ocean to Ireland, tying in the tale of the Selkie. It is as though the seal that Elizabeth knew on the Pacific Coast beach is the same one that appears on the coast of Ireland. There are many highlights in this book, particularly a Fiddle Festival. Trying to solve Triona's murder has opened much more than anyone would have anticipated, the suspense grows to the final outcome. Though this book does not involve archaeology or the bog people, it does involve the forensics of the crime scene, in particular the soil and flora samples. I not only recommend this book, I recommend the entire series for its flavor, mystery, suspense and surprise.

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