Haunted Ground

A Novel

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The dazzling, award-winning debut in a series that delivers mystery, romance, suspense, and fascinating forensic detail
When farmers cutting turf in an Irish peat bog make a grisly discovery -- the perfectly preserved head of a young woman with long red hair -- Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin must use cutting-edge techniques to preserve ancient evidence. Because the bog's watery, acidic environment prevents decay, it's difficult to tell how long the red-haired girl has been buried -- two years, two centuries, or even much longer. Who is she? The extraordinary find leads to even more disturbing puzzles. The red-haired girl is not the only enigma in this remote corner of Galway. Two years earlier, Mina Osborne, the wife of a local landowner, went for a walk with her young son and vanished without a trace. Could they, too, be hidden in the bog's treacherous depths, only to be discovered centuries from now? Or did Hugh Osborne murder his family, as some villagers suspect? Bracklyn House, Osborne's stately home, holds many secrets, and Nora and Cormac's inquiries threaten to expose them all.
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Book Details:
  • Scribner | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743272100 | 
  • March 2005
List Price $18.99

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

With a sodden rasp, Brendan McGann's turf spade sliced into the bank of earth below his feet. Had he known all that he'd turn up with the winter's fuel, perhaps he would have stopped that moment, climbed up onto the bank, and filled his shed with the uniform sods of extruded turf that a person could order nowadays by the lorry-load.

But Brendan continued, loosening each sopping black brick with the square-bladed turf spade, tossing it over the bank, where it landed with a plump slap. He performed his task with a grace and facility that comes from repeating the same motion times without number. Though his father and... see more

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for Haunted Ground by Erin Hart
1. Consider the title, Haunted Ground. In what ways are locations and people in the story haunted by the past? Near the end of the book, Cormac is thinking about all that's taken place around Bracklyn House: "It was a mistake to imagine the past simply buried underground. There was that element, yes, but it might be more accurate to think of it living, breathing, and walking upon the earth as well." How and why do various remnants of the past remain, and what pieces of the present day do you imagine will survive into the future?
2. Because they provide a practically anaerobic environment, Ireland's peat bogs suspend ordinary processes of decay-preserving for hundreds or even thousands of years organic materials and objects that would otherwise disintegrate and disappear. How is the bog used as a metaphor in this story?
3. In ancient Irish literature and folklore, the war goddess Badb often took the shape of a hooded crow -- an appropriate guise, since Badb was well known as a harbinger of death and devourer of battlefield corpses. How is the presence of crows woven through the narrative, and what are some of the other themes and symbols that occur throughout the story?
4. Each section of Haunted Ground opens with a quotation from a 17th-century historical source and describes conditions in Ireland during the Cromwellian resettlement. Did the quotations provide any hints or clues about see more

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Author Revealed

Q. how did you come to write Haunted Ground?

A. While traveling in Ireland years ago, I heard a story about two brothers cutting turf in a bog in Ireland, who came across the perfectly preserved, severed head of a beautiful red-haired girl. It was clear that the girl had been decapitated, and her position in the bog suggested it might have happened about 300 years earlier, around the time of Oliver Cromwell's invasion and occupation of Ireland. All I could think when I heard this story was that it was the best opening I’d ever heard for a mystery, so I started with the basic facts of the real story and made all the rest up! It seemed to me that the red-haired girl (or the cáilín rua, as she's called in HAUNTED GROUND) deserved to have a complex and compelling story, even if it was a work of fiction. As I worked on the first novel, I found a powerful metaphor in the science of archaeology, digging through the past to unearth strange and mysterious connections to the present. I also found that the history of Ireland is an amazing wellspring for me -- so many images and ideas to sift through! The Irish poet Seamus Heaney had it right in his poem, "Bogland" -- "the wet centre is bottomless..."

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