Hart, Erin 1958-
Hart, Erin 1958-
Born 1958, in Crawfordsville, IN; married Paddy O'Brien (a musician), 1987. Education: Saint Olaf College, B.A.; University of Minnesota, M.A.
Minnesota State Agency of the Arts, staff member of communications office, 1983-99; writer. Has also worked as stage manager, secretary, prop-master, civil servant, copywriter, writing teacher, and promoter of traditional music and theater. Cofounder, Irish Music and Dance Association, Minnesota. Former on-air theater critic, Minnesota Public Radio.
Glimmer Train Short Story Award, 1996, for "Waterborne"; Romantic Times Online Best First Mystery Award and Best Mystery nomination, and Book of the Month Club, 2003, all for Haunted Ground; Anthony Award nomination, and Agatha Award nomination, both for best first mystery novel, Booklist's Top Ten Mysteries, and Friends of American Writers Award, all 2004, all for Haunted Ground; Minnesota Book Award finalist, 2005, for Lake of Sorrows.
Haunted Ground (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Lake of Sorrows (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of theater and art reviews to periodicals, including Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, and Skyway News.
Erin Hart was born and raised in America, but her affinity for Ireland is reflected in both her personal and her professional life. A passionate devotee of Irish music and dance, Hart married an Irish-born musician, and she has made numerous trips to the country of her husband's birth. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that when Hart began to write novels she chose the Emerald Isle as their setting and peopled them with an international cast of Americans and Irish—all intensely involved with that nation's political and artistic heritage. "People often ask why I chose Ireland as a setting, and I have to say that I think Ireland chose me," she said on her Web site. "I've actually been fascinated (some might say obsessed) since childhood with all things Irish, especially music and language and folklore," Hart told Ayo Onatade in an interview found on the Mystery Woman Web site. "I remember itching to visit Ireland when I was about eleven years old, and the attraction has never worn off, no matter how many times I travel there. I don't think it's pure accident that I ended up marrying an Irishman! There's something about Ireland's complex and contradictory nature—all those layers of history, I suppose, one on top of the other—that lends a particular resonance to the kinds of stories I feel compelled to tell."
In Hart's well-received debut novel, Haunted Ground, the perfectly preserved head of a decapitated woman is found by a farmer digging in a peat bog in rural Ireland. Since peat has properties that preserve flesh, the woman's face and long red hair remain, but how long she has been in the bog is unknown. Called in to investigate, Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin must establish clues as to the woman's identity based on local legends and spotty historical records. Confounding this pursuit is a more immediate and perhaps related mystery—the unexplained disappearance of the local landowner's wife and son during a walk in the same bog two years earlier. Gavin in particular finds herself haunted by both the disappearances and the red-haired girl because they call to mind the murder of her own sister some time before. For his part, Maguire becomes attracted to his American counterpart and looks for a way to save her "from her growing obsession with the cailín rua," the dead bog girl, explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "and from whatever menacing stranger has telephoned threats in the night and placed a dead crow in her bed." Gavin and Maguire find themselves drawn into multiple levels of deception and danger, with political resentments that have smoldered for centuries. "Haunted Ground," wrote a reviewer for MBR Book-watch, "feels like a modern day rendition of the [Sher-lock Holmes adventure] Hound of the Baskervilles with forensic science replacing Holmesian logic."
Haunted Ground earned high praise from many American critics and was quickly picked up for publication in Europe as well. Bill Ott, in his starred Booklist review, called the novel "an utterly beguiling mix of village mystery, gothic suspense, and psychological thriller.… In every way, this is a debut to remember." A Publishers Weekly correspondent deemed the work "rich in local color" and "evocatively rendered," and in another starred review, Library Journal contributor Susan Clifford Braun commended Hart for her "wonderfully entertaining plot" and "pair of appealing amateur sleuths." Hart, declared Bill Ott in American Libraries, "reinvents the [Daphne] Du Maurier formula for Gothic suspense, and brings new texture [to the] village mystery." "In every way," he concluded, the novel is "a debut to remember." In the online Green Man Review, Cat Eldridge wrote: "Erin Hart has written a truly great novel with interesting and believable characters … a set of fascinating mysteries, a detailed look at contemporary Irish culture, lots of back story as regards the history of the Irish, and just enough music in the narrative to, in musical vernacular, 'step it up lively.' I'm certainly looking forward to reading her next novel!"
Lake of Sorrows, the sequel to Haunted Ground, continues the adventures of the detective pair. After a pair of peat cutters uncovers an ancient body marked with the threefold signs of Celtic human sacrifice (strangulation, throat-cutting, and drowning), Nora Gavin is summoned to render an expert opinion on the remains. As soon as Gavin arrives, however, another body turns up also marked with the signs of human sacrifice—but this one sports a wristwatch. "When a third victim appears, Nora must … catch a ruthless killer with a taste for triple death," stated a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Hart's sequel," declared Susan Clifford Braun in Library Journal, "deftly blends her knowledge of Irish history and culture with real talent for the Gothic thriller." "Hart's language sings," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor, "and the gothic atmosphere lingers the way peat clings to the skin of bog workers."
On her Web site, Hart says she plans several more mysteries featuring Gavin and Maguire, and that at least some of them will be set in Ireland. "For me," she said in her Author! Author! Online, interview, "writing is very much an exercise in setting up situations to find out how your characters will react, rather than planning everything out and putting them through moves like pieces on a chessboard. Real humans behave in ways that surprise and appall us, and so should fictional characters, I think." She added on her Web site: "One of the things I love best about being a writer is that it's a really great excuse to keep learning."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, May, 2003, Bill Ott, "Quick Bibs: Crime Novelists of the Future," p. 80.
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Bill Ott, review of Haunted Ground, p. 1546; October 15, 2004, Bill Ott, review of Lake of Sorrows, p. 363.
Capital Times (Madison, WI), May 16, 2003, Heather Lee Schroeder, "Mystery of Irish 'Bog Body' Satisfies," p. 13A.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Haunted Ground, p. 417; August 1, 2004, review of Lake of Sorrows, p. 716.
Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Haunted Ground, p. 129; September 1, 2004, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Lake of Sorrows, p. 125.
MBR Bookwatch, April, 2005, review of Haunted Ground.
Publishers Weekly, April 14, 2003, review of Haunted Ground, p. 47; August 16, 2004, review of Lake of Sorrows, p. 41.
Author! Author! Online,http://www.hclib.org/ (December 27, 2006), author interview.
Books 'n' Bytes,http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (October 1, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Haunted Ground.
Erin Hart Home Page,http://www.erinhart.com (October 1, 2003).
Green Man Review,http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (October 1, 2003), Cat Eldridge, review of Haunted Ground.
Mystery Woman,http://www.mysterywomen.co.uk/ (December 27, 2006), Ayo Onatade, author interview.
TW Books,http://www.twbooks.co.uk/ (October 1, 2003), Bernard Knight, review of Haunted Ground.