A review of False Mermaid by Erin Hart (2010)
by Laurel Hall
In False Mermaid, Minnesota native Erin Hart takes the Irish myth of the selkie (a seal that can shed its skin to become a human, and put it back on to return to the sea) and spins a web of characters around it. Each story thread hints at the legend, though Hart never resorts to creating a trite metaphor.
The story begins as forensic pathologist Nora Gavin returns to Saint Paul, Minnesota, five years after her sister Tríona was brutally murdered. Nora worked tirelessly after her sister's death to pin the deed on Tríona's husband, Peter Hallett, but she could never find definitive evidence and the case went cold. Emotionally defeated, she fled to Ireland, the homeland of her parents. She spent three years studying bog-preserved human remains with Cormac Maguire, her on-again, off-again love interest. But no sooner has she settled into her Saint Paul apartment, when the wheels of her sister's case begin to move again, and quickly.
Hart deftly switches writing styles between characters, gradually revealing the last days of Tríona's life from the perspectives of her friends, relatives, and admirers. The ride is thrilling, with several twists and turns, in real locations in both Saint Paul and northwestern Ireland. She casts a dark and desperate mood over every scene, but never weighs them down with too much introspection or clunky prose. There are many characters, but they are relatively easy to remember. The villains, however, retained a two-dimensional quality, and never really became anything more than looming specters in the background.
While False Mermaid is strictly speaking the third in a series (after Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows) it is not necessary to read either of the previous novels to follow the story and get invested in the characters.
Thrown into the mix is a love triangle, the fate of a girl who lost her mother to a horrific crime, and the lovely poetic folklore of the green hills and wild seas of Ireland. If any of those three interest you, or if you just enjoy a complex and suspenseful tale, False Mermaid is definitely worth a look.
Read this title yourself by requesting it online with your Kitchigami Regional Library Card by clicking here.