The police get involved due to the fairly recent disappearance of a local woman, Mina Osborne, and her infant son. Mina’s husband, Hugh, considered by the locals to be an upstart interloper whose English family unlawfully seized lands in Ireland during the Cromwellian years, is the primary suspect, but so far no one has been able to bring a case against him because no bodies have ever turned up. Could this unidentified woman be Mina Osborne, or is it the remains of someone much, much older? Why is only her head present, and where is the rest of her body? Was she executed? Murdered?
We get a wonderful infusion of old Irish castle lore when Cormac and Nora are invited to stay in the Osborne’s family estate, a decaying old castle and manor house stuffed with as many secrets as it is neglected old furniture. A full cast of characters are fleshed out beautifully here, as well, from Hugh Osborne’s stiff, cold sister-in-law and her disturbed teenage son, to Devaney, the detective who is no longer supposed to be pursuing this case but can’t seem to help himself, to Cormac and Nora themselves, who feel a strong connection to one another but are hindered by the significant barriers both have put up in their lives. Nora has a particular interest in the bog woman and the possibility that she is the missing Mina Osborne, because she herself is still mourning the brutal slaying of her own sister at the hands of a husband who, like Hugh Osborne, was never convicted. Nora wants to share Cormac’s belief in Hugh’s innocence, but her own experience with her sister’s murder colors her thinking. It doesn’t help matters that once Cormac and Nora move temporarily into the manor, a series of increasingly dangerous incidences involving vandalism, dead animals, and broken glass makes it clear that someone out there wants to put an abrupt end to any more digging, literal or figurative.
I was particularly enchanted by the rich folklore and evocative Irish setting, complete with traditional Irish music, old Gaelic legends, names and songs, and pieces of informative, relevant history about the Cromwellian years after the ouster of King Charles I, and the subsequent ravaging of Ireland as Cromwell and his men sought to destroy everything Irish, Catholic, and anything in between.
This is Erin Hart’s first novel and I thought it was wonderful! I was thoroughly engaged and enjoyed every second of it, not wanting it to end. I’ve already gone and bought her 2nd book, Lake of Sorrows. I have a feeling she’s going to be one of those who can’t produce fast enough for me!