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False Mermaid    by Erin Hart Amazon.com order for
False Mermaid
by Erin Hart
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Simon & Schuster, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Erin Hart, author of Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows (both set in Ireland), now continues her series starring American pathologist Nora Gavin in False Mermaid. This time she brings Nora home to Saint Paul, Minnesota, which she fled three years before after the brutal death of her sister Triona. Convinced that her brother-in-law, Peter Hallett, was guilty of the crime, Nora found herself at odds with both her fiancÚ at the time (Peter's best friend) and her devastated parents.

Hart lays out two main story skeins for readers. One follows Nora (who has decided she must face her demons and find out what happened to her sister, for the sake of her eleven-year-old niece, Elizabeth) through the modern ongoing investigation in Minnesota. In the other, Dublin archaeologist Cormac Maguire stumbles upon a very cold case in Donegal, Ireland. They eventually come together, weaving both myth and mysticism into the story, as mermaids swim through the plot on both sides of the Atlantic.

The coldest case is laid out on the first page of the book via an 1896 newspaper article about the disappearance of Mary Heaney in Donegal - rumor was that the young mother was a selkie, a seal who turned into a woman but later returned to the sea. Cormac, who has come there to visit his estranged father - and stayed after Joseph Maguire collapsed and was taken to hospital - becomes intrigued by Mary's fate and its relationship to selkie legends.

In Minnesota, a new lead opens up for investigator Frank Cordova when a refugee plagued by nightmares from his own past finds a human skull while fishing - 'The killing fields were everywhere.' The corpse turns out to be that of Natalie Russo, a rower killed in the same manner as Triona and in a similar location. In the meantime, Elizabeth finds out that her dad is the chief suspect in her mother's death. Peter Hallett re-marries Miranda (sister of Nora's ex-fiancÚ) and the couple flies to Ireland, taking Elizabeth with them. Then the girl disappears.

After plenty of red herrings and surprises along the way, it all comes together in a dramatic conclusion in Seal Harbor, Donegal, where we learn who really was the false mermaid. As always, Erin Hart gives us a fascinating mystery, enriched by Irish folklore, as well as by Discussion Questions and the author's essay on How to Grow a Book at the end.

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