Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin Series

Erin_HartAbout the author:

Born: September 1, 1958 in Crawfordsville, Indiana

B.A. Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN

M.A. English & Creative Writing-University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN


Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic Thriller

Publisher: Scribner Book Company

Future of the series: Hart is working on the 5th in the series and hopes to get it done soon. I will update when I get some more info.

The Simon Review

Let me first say that Erin Hart’s Nora Gavin novels are beautifully and artistically written and are filled with descriptive insights into the Irish countryside along with its historical detail. Ahhh… but this is a problem. When I read a thriller, I’m expecting right from the beginning for it to reach right out and slap me around so that I am so engrossed in the novel that I miss my bus stop (which I have done). Even though Hart’s novels have every element to make it a thriller, it does not have that grab you by the seat of your pants effect. I believe the reason for this problem is there is just too much time spent describing the scenery, the characters, the history and anything else that comes to mind and this distracts from the main goal, which is to THRILL me. Additionally, a good thriller wraps up quickly after what is hopefully a great climax because, if it is a good story, there shouldn’t be much else to say. Hart unfortunately breaks this rule and continues on for a number of chapters trying to wrap up loose ends. Not good. I think that Hart would be better at writing mysteries than trying to write thrillers.

Now for the positive aspects of the series, which could have been easily been entitled “The Bog Body Series”. One element that is continuous throughout the series is the discovery of at least one corpse in a bog or in bog-like conditions. Bog bodies are, very interestingly, well preserved no matter how long they have been interned in their watery graves which could be for centuries. This postmortem preservation is unique among forensic thrillers, and of course, this raises my curiosity antennas about the science behind it. Hart, however, doesn’t take advantage of this unique aspect of her series by giving a little more detail about the science behind this preservation. For those of you interested, I will discuss this more in the “What about the Science?” section.

The main characters, Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire, are pleasant enough characters. Nora Gavin is a medical pathologist who specializes in bog bodies. Her primary interest with bog bodies is anthropologic, but of course, there is a murder associated with the bog body and the curious as well as the nosy person that becomes her, she must investigate. Her character reminds me a bit of Kathy Reich’s Temp Brennan, who is constantly getting herself into precariously dangerous situations which seems out of place for such an educated and seemingly level headed person. As with many thriller characters, Gavin has a haunted past with a sister that was murdered and Gavin believes that her sister’s husband was the murderer but was never found guilty. Gavin is obsessed in proving him guilty and the third book of the series, False Mermaid, addresses this issue.

Cormac Maguire is an archaeologist who specializes in Bog excavations and is also Nora Gavin’s lover. Maguire has a serious thing for Gavin, so much that he is willing to get involved in snooping for clues to the point that he gets himself arrested and almost burned alive. What some guys will do for a women.

The Nora Gavin series is a rather slow paced series but the bog bodies are at least worth a read. The series starts out slow but Hart seems to be working on picking up the pace with each successive novel. Make sure you grab a cup of coffee before starting a novel and you will be fine.


The series should be read in order.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Killowen, because it was the most fast paced book in the series

Least Favorite Novel in the Series-Haunted Grounds, because it was the slowest paced book in the series

What about the science?

As I promised:

Bogs are wetlands that are predominately made of peat, dead plant material derived primarily from mosses. The bogs that harbor bog bodies are very specifically dominated with sphagnum moss. Though there are several factors that result in preservation of bodies in the bogs, low pH, anaerobic conditions, cool temperatures, it is the presence of sphagnum moss that is the key factor in body preservation. First, when the mosses die they produce an acid called humic acid which results in the low pH of the bog. Sphagnum mosses also release a molecule known as Sphagnum holocellulose that reacts with digestive enzymes from bacteria preventing them from decomposing the body. It is believed that the reaction that occurs with the enzymes is a Maillard reaction (see Technical Word in Review).

Sphagnum bogs that harbor bog bodies are primarily found in Northern Europe with Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom being the main contributors.

The Nora Gavin Technical Word in Review: The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs in the browning of food and also the same reaction that occurs with bog bodies. The reaction itself occurs between the carbonyl of a reducing sugar (the holocellulose mentioned above) and the amino group of an amino acid or protein (digestive enzymes or collagen found in skin). In food, it is usually high temperatures that induce the reaction but in the bog, it is the presence of Sphagnum holocellulose that triggers the reaction. The resulting product from this reaction is a group of molecules called melanoidins which are brown pigments that give the characteristic color that is found in bog bodies.

Ward ventured a question, “What exactly causes the discoloration?”

“The bog environment triggers what’s known as a Maillard reaction.” Ward looked blank, so Nora tried to explain: “In simple terms, it’s a common protein-sugar reaction-the same reaction that causes food to turn brown, actually. Some of the research using piglets has demonstrated pretty marked discoloration after a couple of years. So, in other words, I don’t know if we can tell from coloration alone.”Lake of Sorrows

Books in the Series by Order:

Vote for your favorite Forensic Thriller on the Forensic Fiction List on Goodreads Listopia.

Goodreads Forensic Fiction Best List

Most Favorite in the series: The Book of Killowen with a score of 3.89

Least Favorite in the series: Haunted Ground with a score of 3.70

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing and Amazon (US & UK)

haunted-ground#1- Haunted Ground- 2003

Winner of the 2003 Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Mystery

Winner of the 2004  Friends of American Writers Award

Winner of 2003 Deadly Pleasure Magazine Award for Best Mystery

First Line:

With a sodden rasp, Brendan McGann’s turf sliced into the bank of earth below his feet.


Nora Gavin: An American medical pathologist who specializes in bog bodies

Cormac Maguire: An Irish archeologist that specializes in bog excavations

Garrett Devaney: Homicide Detective

Hugh Osborne: Resident at the Bracklyn house whose wife and child disappeared several years earlier.  Locals believed he murdered them.

Mina Osborne: Wife to Hugh Osborne

Lucy Osborne: Cousin to Hugh Osborne and also resides at the Bracklyn house with her son.

Jeremy Osborne: Son to Lucy Osborne

The Setting

Galway, Ireland

When farmers cutting turf in a peat bog make a grisly discovery — the perfectly preserved severed head of a young woman with long red hair — Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin team up in a case that will open old wounds.

Peat bogs prevent decay, so the decapitated young woman could have been buried for two decades, two centuries, or even much longer. Who is she? When was she killed? The extraordinary find leads to even more disturbing puzzles. The red-haired girl is clearly a case for the archaeologists, not the police. Still, her tale may have shocking ties to the present, and Cormac and Nora must use cutting-edge techniques to preserve ancient evidence.

And the red-haired girl is not the only enigma in this remote corner of Galway. Two years earlier, Mina Osborne, the local landowner’s Indian-born wife, went for a walk with her young son and never returned. Did Mina simply decide to disappear, or did mother and child become lost in the treacherous bog? Could they, too, be hidden in its depths, only to be discovered centuries from now? Or did the landowner, Hugh Osborne, murder his family, as some villagers suspect?

Bracklyn House, Osborne’s stately home, holds many secrets for Nora and Cormac and policeman Garrett Devaney. But time is running out. Devaney’s superiors want him off the Osborne case. Now. He wants to stay and find a killer.

From The Best Bad Reviews:

Juliet-Camille review on Goodreads of Erin Hart’s Haunted Ground puts a new spin on the term ‘bored to death‘.

I would have liked this much better if it focused more on the dead body, and less on the living characters.

Looking for reviews for Haunted Ground? Check out:

Nightstand Book Reviews

Book Shelves & Window Seats

Reading on a Rainy Day

Irish Fireside

The Evening Reader

Give Me One More Chapter

My Book Abyss

Library Thing Rating: 3.56 out of 5 stars based on 248 ratings

Amazon Rating-US: 4.15 out of 5 stars based on 166 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.75 out of 5 stars based on 8 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.69 out of 5 stars based on 5,966 ratings

Total Score 3.70 (updated 10/3/18)



#2- Lake of Sorrows- 2006

First Line:

It was the cold that roused him.


Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire

Ursula Downes: Archeologist called in to excavate the bog where a bog body is found

Liam Ward: Police detective investigating bog murder

Desmond Quill: A friend of Ursula Downes

Owen Cadogan: Bog manager and murder suspect

Brona Scully: Young girl that is known not to speak; daughter to Michael Scully

The Setting

Loughnabrone Bog, Ireland

American pathologist Nora Gavin has come to the Irish midlands to examine a body unearthed by peat workers at a desolate spot known as the Lake of Sorrows. As with all the artifacts culled from its prehistoric depths, the bog has effectively preserved the dead man’s remains, and his multiple wounds suggest he was the victim of the ancient pagan sacrifice known as the triple death. But signs of a more recent slaying emerge when a second body, bearing a similar wound pattern, is found — this one sporting a wristwatch. Someone has come to this quagmire to sink their dreadful handiwork — and Nora soon realizes that she is being pulled deeper into the land and all it holds: the secrets to a cache of missing gold, a tumultuous love affair with archeologist Cormac Maguire, the dark mysteries and desires of the workers at the site, and a determined killer fixated on the gruesome notion of triple death.

Looking for reviews for Lake of Sorrows? Check out:

Curl Up With A Good Book


The Evening Reader

Give Me One More Chapter

WL Hawkin

Library Thing Rating: 3.62 out of 5 stars based on 118 ratings

Amazon Rating-US: 4.12 out of 5 stars based on 78 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.67 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.85 out of 5 stars based on 2,756 ratings

Total Score 3.85 (updated 10/3/18)



false-mermaid#3- False Mermaid- 2011

First Line:

What would read akin to the fairy romances of ancient times in Erin, is now the topic on all lips in the neighborhood of Ardara and Glencolumbkille.


Nora Gavin, Garrett Devaney and Cormac Maguire

Triona Gavin: Nora’s murdered sister

Frank Cordova: Was the lead investigator during Triona’s murder.  Is in love with Nora.

Peter Hallett: Triona’s husband

Miranda Staunton: Peter Hallet’s new wife

Joseph Maguire: Cormac’s father whom he has not seen for many years

The Setting

Saint Paul, Minnesota and Donegal County, Ireland

American pathologist Nora Gavin fled to Ireland three years ago, hoping that distance from home would bring her peace. Though she threw herself into the study of bog bodies and the mysteries of their circumstances, she was ultimately led back to the one mystery she was unable to solve: the murder of her sister, Tríona. Nora can’t move forward until she goes back—back to her home, to the scene of the crime, to the source of her nightmares and her deepest regrets. Determined to put her sister’s case to rest and anxious about her eleven-year-old niece, Elizabeth, Nora returns to Saint Paul, Minnesota, to find that her brother-in-law, Peter Hallett, is about to remarry and has plans to leave the country with his new bride.

Nora has long suspected Hallett in Tríona’s murder, though there has never been any proof of his involvement, and now she believes that his new wife and Elizabeth may both be in danger. Time is short, and as Nora begins reinvestigating her sister’s death, missed clues and ever-more disturbing details come to light. What is the significance of the “false mermaid” seeds found on Tríona’s body? Why was her behavior so erratic in the days before her murder? Is there a link between Tríona’s death and that of another young woman? Nora’s search for answers takes her from the banks of the Mississippi to the cliffs of Ireland, where the eerie story of a fisherman’s wife who vanished more than a century ago offers up uncanny parallels.

As painful secrets come to light, Nora is drawn deeper into a past that still threatens to engulf her and must determine how much she is prepared to sacrifice to put one tragedy to rest . . . and to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

“Sure”, Holly said.  “There were lots of different species, as I recall, pretty typical of seepage swamp: black ash and cottonwood, buckthorn, marsh marigold, Virginia Creeper, touch-me-not, wood nettle.  They’re all pretty common.  But there was one unusual find as well, seeds from a plant called false mermaid.  It’s only been documented a couple of places in Minnesota, and only outside the Twin Cities.  I was sorry we couldn’t pinpoint where the seeds came from-it would have helped your case, I know”

We might have another chance,” Nora said.  ” I remember that name, false mermaid.  Something to do with mythology?”

“I am astonished that you remember,” Holly said.  She pointed to a poster on the wall, photographs of a wispy-looking green plant.  A corner inset showed a close-up of three wrinkled seeds.  “There it is-the Latin name is Floerkea proserpinacoides: The genus, Floerkea, after the famous botanist Gustav Heinrich Florke, and the epithet proserpinacoides, which means ‘like Proserpinaca.’  Proserpinaca is a semiaquatic plant, also called ‘mermaid weed.’  The fellow that named false mermaid thought its leaves bore a strong resemblance to Proserpinaca.  As it turns out, they aren’t genetically related, but the name stuck anyway.”

Looking for reviews for False Mermaid? Check out:

Open Letters Monthly



Library Thing Rating: 3.66 out of 5 stars based on 77 ratings

Amazon Rating-US: 4.19 out of 5 stars based on 104 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.20 out of 5 stars based on 5 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.83 out of 5 stars based on 1,959 ratings

Total Score 3.84 (updated 10/3/18)



book-of-killowen#4- The Book of Killowen- 2013

Listed #75 out of 121 on Goodreads Best Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #154 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thriller Book List

First Line:

The oak wood was still.


Nora Gavin, Cormac Maguire and Joseph Maguire

Claire Finnerty: Owner of the Killowen

Martin and Tessa Gwynne: Long term residents of the Killowen.  Martin is a calligrapher.

Lucien and Sylvie Picard: Cheesemakers and residents of the Killowen

Diarmuid Lynch: Resident of the Killowen, was found wandering aimlessly one night and couldn’t remember who he was

Stella Cusack: Detective on the case

Niall Dawson: Archeologist from the National Museum and friend of Cormac’s

Eliana Guzman: Joseph Maguire’s young caregiver

Anca Popescu: Martin Gwynne’s Romanian apprentice

Benedict Kavanaugh: The victim and well known but not liked philosopher

Mairead Broome: Wife to Benedict Kavanaugh

Vincent Claffey: Neighbor to the Killowen

Deidre Claffey: Vincent’s daughter

The Setting

Saint Paul, Minnesota and Donegal County, Ireland

What sort of book is worth a man’s life? After a year away from working in the field, archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin are back in the bogs, investigating a ninth-century body found buried in the trunk of a car. They discover that the ancient corpse is not alone—pinned beneath it is the body of Benedict Kavanagh, missing for mere months and familiar to television viewers as a philosopher who enjoyed destroying his opponents in debate. Both men were viciously murdered, but centuries apart—so how did they end up buried together in the bog?

While on the case, Cormac and Nora lodge at Killowen, a nearby artists’ colony, organic farm, and sanctuary for eccentric souls. Digging deeper into the older crime, they become entangled in high-stakes intrigue encompassing Kavanagh’s death while surrounded by suspects in his ghastly murder. It seems that everyone at Killowen has some secret to protect.

She came closer and lowered her voice.  “He told me this morning why he was here in April, investigating a ring of treasure hunters-” 

“Shawn have you ever heard of the Book of Killowen?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Nora found John O’Donovan’s notes online last night, with the reference to the shrine and to the book being burned.  We thought that may have been a ruse.”

Looking for reviews for The Book of Killowen? Check out:

Aunt Agatha’s

S. Krishna’s Books

Marianne Delacourt’s Tara Sharp

A Book and a Review

Library Thing Rating: 3.76 out of 5 stars based on 50 ratings

Amazon Rating: 4.41 out of 5 stars based on 121 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.60 out of 5 stars based on 5 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.86 out of 5 stars based on 1,784 ratings

Total Score 3.89 (updated 10/3/18)

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