Skip to Main Content

About The Book

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.

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 the identity or history of the cailín rua?
5. Cormac compares his own work to that done by detectives -- "sorting through evidence and piecing together clues to unlock the secrets and the lives of those long dead." Both police work and archaeology use forensic science to answer questions, not only about causes of death, but also about the motivations and actions of the living. In what ways are archaeology and forensic pathology linked in Haunted Ground?
6. The three main characters (Cormac Maguire, Nora Gavin, and Garrett Devaney) are all initially unwilling to allow anyone else access to the painful experiences that have shaped their lives. How do these inner demons drive each of them to become involved in the death of the cailín rua and the disappearance of Mina Osborne?
7. How are the two parallel mysteries intertwined in this story? In particular, how does the life of the cailín rua intersect with the lives of the present inhabitants of Bracklyn House and the people of Dunbeg, and what are the parallels and the dissimilarities between the stories of the cailín rua and Mina Osborne?
8. Discuss the many ways in which history is conveyed -- through songs, tunes, traditional folklore and folkways, memories of local inhabitants, written documents -- and how all of these elements are necessary in solving the puzzle of the cailín rua. Science also plays a large part in unraveling the riddle; what are the scientific discoveries that lead Nora to the final proof of the red-haired girl's identity?
9. Even though she was born in Ireland and feels a strong connection to its musical traditions, Nora feels somewhat cut off from Irish culture. Is this a common experience for immigrants, and is it a gap that can ever be bridged? Garrett Devaney also experiences a kind of cultural disconnect from his children, and though this split is more generational than geographic, is it just as difficult to overcome?
10. Nora and Garrett Devaney both worry about how much traditional culture is lost each time a person who is a repository of that culture expires. What do you think of Cormac's theory that old ways are never completely lost, but are embedded within the subconscious of each succeeding generation, and only rise to the surface under certain conditions? Is there any such thing as a collective unconscious?
11. Nora has a very strong emotional reaction to the sight of the red-haired girl, and again experiences a disturbing jolt while alone with the girl's head in the museum conservation lab. She knows that expecting to discover the identity of the red-haired girl goes against reason and all her scientific training, and yet her conviction is real. Have you ever had such a strong emotional connection with someone or something, or experienced any similarly strange convergences of coincidence like those that lead to the discovery of the red-haired girl's identity?
12. A common device in crime novels is the use of so-called "red herrings" to led the reader astray from the actual perpetrator of the crime. Who and what are the red herrings in Haunted Ground, and how did each of them seem to point to possible suspects?
13. Do you think Nora's brother-in-law really killed her sister? And does solving the mystery of the red-haired girl give her a sense of closure about her sister's death, or increase her desire to find justice? Is it possible for Hugh and Jeremy to have a successful relationship, and, given the harrowing events he's experienced, do you think Jeremy will ever be able to lead an ordinary life?

About The Author

photograph by Joyce Ravid

Erin Hart is a theater critic and former administrator at the Minnesota State Arts Board. A lifelong interest in Irish traditional music led her to cofound Minnesota’s Irish Music and Dance Association. She and her husband, musician Paddy O’Brien, live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and frequently visit Ireland. Erin Hart was nominated for the Agatha and Anthony Awards for her debut novel, Haunted Ground, and won the Friends of American Writers Award in 2004. Visit her website at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (April 8, 2003)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743254526

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

"Spooky and compelling...does for Galway what Sharyn McCrumb does for Appalachia."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"Out of the Irish mist and into the ancient bogs, Erin Hart spins a dark tale of gothic suspense fused with modern forensics. This bright new talent lays bare all the buried bones in a murderous tale of intrigue and betrayal."
-- Linda Fairstein, author of Entombed

"In Haunted Ground, the past is not buried underground, it lives and breathes. Erin Hart's beguiling debut novel probes the mysterious connections between the dead and living in a moody Irish song of innocent blood, shattered hearts, and life's unquenchable flow."
-- Perri O'Shaughnessy, author of Unlucky in Law

"Hart writes with a lovely eloquence about how character is shaped by the music, the architecture, and the history of this harsh and beautiful land."
-- The New York Times Book Review

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Erin Hart