Monday, June 25, 2012

Fascinating, well-conceived murder mystery

False Mermaid     
by Erin Hart
ISBN: 978-1-4165-6377-8
a 2011 trade paper release from
Scribner. 318 pages

As I and others sometimes remark, Crime Fiction writing is really about the creation of fantasies, regardless of how realistic and true to life the stories may be. Which brings me to the latest mystical, mysterious story from the mind of that very Irish author, Erin Hart. I will say I was not enthralled by her first, “Haunted Ground.” But one of the joys of following authors is to experience their development and improvement. This is a most elegant and excellent novel.

A warning; if you aren’t interested in shape shifters, ancient myth and legends, and events that defy rational explanation, or the intense struggles of the human heart, you might wish to avoid this exceptional intricate and enthralling story of murder and redemption. The ancient legends of the selkie, that astounding alluring creature from the sea that we see as a playful, sometimes raucous seal, with deep, dark, soulful eyes; the creature that, legend has it, by shedding its skin, takes on human female form, sometimes to live on the shores of the ocean, sometimes to mate and marry with men, infuses the fabric of this story. Mary Heaney may have been one such. Mary’s story is ancient, the death of Nora’s sister is not.

Five years after the murder of her sister, Nora Gavin has returned to her home in Saint Paul, to take up once again the scattering of evidence in a last desperate attempt to prove that her manipulative brother-in-law Peter Hallett, is somehow responsible for the bludgeoning murder of her sister, Triona. It happened somewhere along  the shores of the Mississippi river. There are endless complications both of the evidentiary kind and of the heart. Nora is convinced of the man’s guilt, but the more she learns, the more the evidence points away from Peter.

As the story progresses, Nora finds herself in a race to protect her niece and solve the case before the man leaves the country with his new bride. Meanwhile, in Ireland, Nora’s lover, Cormac Maguire, follows the case of the missing Mary Heaney, with its surprising parallels to that of Triona. As both stories draw to a tense and surprising conclusion on the rocky ocean shores of County Donegal, and the cold Irish Sea, “The night is dark and the wind is ill/ The Plough can be seen high in the sky/ But on top of the waves and by the mouth of the sea/ We give you Mary Heaney who has swum across the Erne.”