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Lake of Sorrows

A Novel


A magnificent tale of death and destiny, past and present, in an Ireland rich with tradition, myth, and mystery: “Lake of Sorrows has a heft and richness uncommon in contemporary suspense novels” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune).

American pathologist Nora Gavin has come to the Irish midlands to examine a body unearthed 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—his multiple wounds suggest he was the victim of an ancient pagan sacrifice known as “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 archaeologist Cormac Maguire, and the dark mysteries and desires of the workers at the site. As they draw closer to the truth, Nora and Cormac must exercise the utmost caution to avoid becoming the next victims of a ruthless killer fixated on the gruesome notion of triple death.

Reading Group Guide

Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart

1.      Lake of Sorrows opens with a graphic scene: a young man sinking and eventually drowning in a bog. After reading the whole story, can you be certain of the young man’s identity, or is it still ambiguous? What does the opening chapter foreshadow about rest of the book?

2.      The industrial bogs of the Irish midlands provide a most unusual atmosphere in this novel. The bog has played many roles in Irish history, as a place of spirituality, mystery, and commerce. What does this unique environment contribute to the story? What elements of the bog landscape can you see reflected in the psychological development of the characters?

3.      The bog has often functioned as hiding place for secret treasure. Many of the characters in Lake of Sorrows have hidden or buried physical objects, or intangible things such as their personal history or emotions. Can you think of examples? Which are revealed in this novel, and which still remain buried at its conclusion? What do the things people hide reveal about them as characters?

4.      Sacrifice is one of the major themes in Lake of Sorrows. The bog that was once a mysterious place of sacrifice in ancient times is being sacrificed in modern times to generate electricity. In what other ways do ideas about sacred offerings and sacrifice still resonate in the characters’ daily lives?

5.      Nora wishes she could see Ireland the way Cormac does, “under the skin of the landscape down to the bones.” Later, Theresa Brazil compares the water that runs in local bog drains to the lifeblood of the place. Are there other references to the earth as a body, a living, corporeal entity? How does this relate to the theme of sacrifice?

6.      Several characters in the book draw modern parallels to the ancient practice of human sacrifice: war and famine, industrialization, politics, the cult of celebrity. Do you think any of these parallels are justified?

7.      Early on in the story, an ancient corpse is discovered bearing evidence of a grisly practice known as “triple death.” The number three or the concept of trinity appears throughout Lake of Sorrows. Can you think of other examples? What is the significance of the number three?

8.      Gold is another recurring image in the story, both literally and figuratively. Can you think of examples? What are the qualities that have given gold such power and significance within the human imagination?

9.      Bees and honey figure prominently in this novel. Discuss their many roles, from the mystical to the practical.

10.  Nora comes to realize early in this story that she does love Cormac, but she is still haunted by her sister’s death. Is unfinished business at home in the U.S. reason enough for to leave their relationship up in the air, or do you think that given the events of this story, Nora has some deeper fears about Cormac’s honesty and faithfulness?

11.  Several of the characters in this story are eccentrics or outcasts: Charlie Brazil, Rachel Briscoe, Brona Scully, and even Ursula Downes. What sets these characters apart from others, and do you identify with them, even though they are misunderstood?

12.  One of the characters, Brona Scully, is mute. How is Brona, despite her lack of speech, able to make herself understood, and why do you think some of the other characters—even those capable of speech—still struggle to communicate?

13.  Michael Scully is described at one point as carrying on the tradition of the hereditary historian. People give him old photographs, letters, and journals, pieces of the past they haven’t the heart to dispose of but don’t want to keep either. Do you know anyone who fulfills this kind of a role in your family or in your community?

14.  Does Ursula Downes’ background, including the damaging, abusive relationship with her stepfather, make her adult relationships—especially those with men—more understandable? 

15.  Charlie Brazil has always believed that Dominic, the man he knew as his father, never felt anything for him. Late in the novel, Charlie is remembering his narrow escape from a potentially dangerous situation as a child and his father’s reaction. Do you think Charlie is mistaken about Dominic’s regard for him?

16.  Teresa Brazil’s life story is told in a single chapter late in the book (the only part of the story told from her point of view). Does the drastic action she takes in the end make sense given her history?

17.  Does the book’s final chapter leave you with a sense of hope for Nora and Cormac, and their future together, or do you have any lingering doubts about whether things will work out for them?

18.  Which were the most memorable scenes in this story? What ideas or images stayed in your mind after reading the book? What was the most interesting bit of insight or information you gained from reading this story?


19.  How does Erin Hart’s work fit into tradition of mystery/crime writing, and which authors—past or present—would you consider similar in style or tone?
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

"Personal detail and local history give Lake of Sorrows a heft and richness uncommon in contemporary suspense novels."
-- Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Rich and delicious...emotionally and intellectually gorgeous.... Readers...will relish this new adventure."
-- Publishers Weekly

"Hart writes with a lovely eloquence."
-- The New York Times Book Review

More books from this author: Erin Hart