A farmer digs up a severed head in a peat bog in the west of Ireland (Galway region). The experts are called in - archaeologist, Cormac Maguire, and American pathologist, Nora Gavin. These two had an older 'mentor' type friend in common who is now dead, the friend having been keen that they get together romantically. They never did so there is some slight awkwardness and history existing between the two.
As they arrive from Dublin to see the head, a local land-owner, Hugh Osborne, also arrives. His wife and son went missing several years ago and he's anxious to see if the head might be that of his wife, who was of Indian origin. It's not. It's a red-headed girl and no one has any idea how long her head has been buried in the bog.
Hugh Osborne asks Cormac to excavate a site on his land where he plans to build. Nora is intrigued by both the newly discovered head and the disappearance of Mina and Christopher Osborne, as she herself has lost a sister in suspicious circumstances. So she asks Cormac if she can help him so that they can covertly investigate the disappearances and also try to find out more about the red-headed girl. They stay at Hugh's manor house and meet his cousin, Lucy, and her son Jeremy. They also get to know the family of the farmer who found the head, the McGanns. All of them clearly have secrets they're not keen to share. Nora and Cormac set about investigating not only the mystery of Hugh's wife and child but also delve into local history to find clues to who the red-headed girl might be.
Erin Hart apparently lives in Minnesota but has an Irish husband, I believe, so that explains why the book set in Ireland. It's very apparent that she spends time in that country as the both the setting and atmosphere are very well done. Sadly, I've never been to Ireland - I've always wanted to go - so can't really say how accurate it is, only that it felt spot-on from what I've seen of the west of Ireland on TV. Put it this way, various descriptions made me want to pack my bags right now...
The mystery aspect of the book was very good too. I liked the way the author tied in the stories of the missing persons with that of the red-headed girl, anyone interested in Irish history would enjoy this I would imagine and I felt like I learned a lot. I didn't guess whodunnit or how the crime was committed - the how and the why was actually more important than anything in the end. Not that that matters too much to me as I can sometimes guess whodunnit right at the start of a book and it makes no difference to my enjoyment. Archaeology-wise I'm no expert and can't vouch for the accuracy of any of the methods used. An expert might be thoroughly annoyed by mistakes for all I know, or it could be spot-on.
All in all not a bad read. A good setting, a good mystery, good historically. It *possibly* would not have harmed had the story been a little more pacey but that's a minor quibble. I'll certainly grab more books by Erin Hart if I see them at the library and, in fact, I think there *are* a couple more books with these characters. And I seriously need to go to Ireland!
Photo from Galway.net