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You Found What in a Bog? Writing the Archaeological Mystery, Featuring Guest Host Mick Halpin

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With mystery writer Erin Hart



“Working deliberately, Brendan dug around the perimeter of the fibrous mat, probing for its edges, and scraping away loose bits of peat. He knelt on the spongy bank and pulled at the strands that began to emerge from the soaking turf. This wasn’t horsehair, it was tangled and matted, all right, but it was too long, and far too fine to be the rooty material his father called horsehair. Brendan worked his broad fingers into the dense black peat he’d pried loose with the spade. Without warning, a block in his left hand gave way, and he cast it aside.

‘Holy Christ,’ Fintan whispered, and Brendan looked down. Almost touching his knee were the unmistakable and delicate curves of a human ear. It was stained a dark tobacco brown, and though the face was not visible, something in the line of the jaw, and the dripping tangle of fine hair above it, told him at once that this ear belonged to a woman. Brendan struggled to his feet, only dimly aware of the cold water seeping through the knees of his trousers and down into his Wellingtons.”

–From Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart

Imagine finding 100-year-old butter that’s still salty and white in, of all places, an Irish bog. Then imagine discovering a centuries-old perfectly preserved body in that same bog.

Believe it or not, a bog can harbor archaeological treasures. And leave it to mystery writer Erin Hart to dive right in, well, dig right in, and dredge up something else: murder.

Before straying serendipitously into crime fiction, Erin Hart trained to become a theater director, and has been variously employed as a stage manager, propmaster, editor and copywriter, writing teacher, journalist and theater critic. Born in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and raised in Rochester, Minnesota, Erin was educated at Saint Olaf College and the University of Minnesota.

Erin came to writing quite late, and by way of her first love, theater. Starting graduate school in the mid-1980s, the available choices were business administration or creative writing—she chose writing almost by default, and embarked on a second career as a freelance arts journalist and theater critic. Throughout the 1990s, her work appeared in print in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, and Skyway News, and for several years she was the regular theater critic for Minnesota Public Radio. She also began to write memoir, essays, and short fiction. When her short story, “Waterborne,” won the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers in 1996, she began to receive inquiries from literary agents.

While visiting friends in Ireland one summer, Erin heard an intriguing tale about a beautiful red-haired girl whose perfectly preserved severed head was discovered in a desolate Irish bog. That true story was the inspiration for her debut novel, Haunted Ground, the first in a planned series of crime novels set mostly in Ireland, revolving around archaeology, forensics, history, traditional music and folklore. Haunted Ground has been translated into ten foreign languages; the second novel in the series, Lake of Sorrows, was published in October 2004.

Erin lives with her husband Paddy O’Brien in Minnesota. They make frequent visits to Ireland, going to music sessions, and carrying out essential research in bogs and cow pastures and castles and pubs.

Join guest host Mick Halpin and Erin as they explore bogs, mystery writing, and things Irish, including:

  • Where she came up with the idea of writing a bog mystery
  • How she feels about writing dark characters
  • How she approaches research
  • How she ties together the ancient past and the present and entices the reader to care about both
  • What’s going on in bog-based archaeology
  • How she weaves music and culture into her stories
  • What she learned from writing her first book that helped her with her second
  • Why the mystery “formula” remains popular.

Interviewee: Erin Hart
Host: Mick Halpin
Date: December 4, 2006
Running time: 55:24
File size: 40 megabytes
Rating: G
Erin Hart’s Web site:

Purchase Erin Hart’s books at