Literary Affairs

Theatre of the Mind: Erin Hart’s Haunted Ground

Erin Hart‘s Haunted Ground is not a new book but rather a work published nearly a decade ago. Nonetheless it intrigued me as an audiobook so I asked the publicist at the digital publishing arm of Random Hose and he sent along a download link. I had read it quite some time ago and was curious as to how it translated as a Theatre of the Mind experience.

As my review said, ‘Erin Hart’s first novel, Haunted Ground, weaves a tight but complex tale of how the head of a red-headed woman found in a bog by a farmer cutting peat to heat his home gets tangled up in both history and myth, as reflected in the minds of those involved in solving this case — and those who don’t want the puzzle solved. Was she murdered? Oh, yes — decapitated quite efficiently. But who murdered her? And why? Was it millennia ago? Or was it but a few years ago? (Bogs preserve organic material for very long periods.) And who now knows what happened to her?

As I just noted, Haunted Ground begins when a farmer cutting turf in the west of Ireland makes a grisly discovery: the perfectly preserved severed head of a beautiful young woman with long red hair. Called out to the bog to investigate, Irish archeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin are thrown together by their shared curiosity about her fate.(And mutual attraction to each other as well — no surprise.) Imbuing her with a status out of myth itself, Cormac will name her, in Gaelic, calin rau, making her more than merely a dead girl. She is, in a real sense, representative of the whole history of Ireland. Was she killed by a Druid priest? A murderous husband? A stranger from elsewhere?

I haven’t listened to anything set in Ireland so I want to note that it helps that Hart’s married to Paddy O’Brien, whom we reviewed in the guise of Chulrua whose CD, Barefoot on the Altar, we’ve reviewed. Though it’s just a bit of a stretch as regards believability, all three of the characters looking into the matter of the myriad mysteries in this book are Irish traditional musicians! Not ‘tall surprisingly, there are great Irish music seisiúns here!

Ok, I’ve now listened to about four hours of this Haunted Ground so I can now say that the narrator, Jennifer McMahon, does an absolutely perfect job of capturing both the individuals in the story and the setting of the story, the latter being the rural West country and its very long and tortured history. The only biographic information on her comes from, surprise not, the website of Erin Hart: ‘Jennifer McMahon’ is actually a stage name of Rosalyn Landor, a multi-talented actress with extensive theater, film, and television credits, who really brings the stories to life. (Mystery fans might be pleased to know that Roz has appeared in Rumpole of the Bailey and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett. And for all you sci-fi fans, she was also in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ I thought given how well she did at capturing Irish accents that she’d be Irish born and raised but she’s actually London born and bred! That role on Star Trek: The Next Generation was a red-haired Irish cailín named Brenna Odell who had her hair washed by Will Riker starting at her feet!

All in all, I’m quite enjoying this work and am certainly looking forward to the sequel, Lake of Sorrows as it’s got a better than average mystery, great narration, and is a fascinating look at a aspect of Irish culture most often overlooked.

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