The Book of Killowen

The Book of Killowen

by Erin Hart


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“Hart combines powerful insights into human nature and pristine prose with history and archeology in her stellar fourth crime novel” (Publishers Weekly) about an ancient volume of philosophical heresy that provides a motive for murder.

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. Set in modern-day Ireland, The Book of Killowen reveals a new twist on the power of language—and on the eternal mysteries of good and evil.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451634853
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 03/11/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 402,104
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.37(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

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

Read an Excerpt

The Book of Killowen

  • Domfarcai fidbaidæ fál fomchain lóid luin lúad nad cél.

    Huas mo lebrán indlínech fomchain trírech innanén . . .

    Fommchain cói menn medair mass himbrot lass de dindgnaib doss

    debrath nomchoimmdiu cóima cáinscríbaimm foróda ross.

    A hedge of trees surrounds me:

    a blackbird’s lay sings to me

    praise which I will not hide . . .

    Above my manuscript—the lined one—

    the trilling of the birds sings to me.

    In a gray mantle the cuckoo sings

    a beautiful chant to me from the tops of bushes:

    may the Lord protect me from Doom!

    I write well under the greenwood.

    —Verse written in the margin by an Irish scribe who copied Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae (a Latin grammar) in the mid-ninth century

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Book of Killowen includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book clubThe suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    What could possibly explain two dead bodies in the buried trunk of a car—murdered hundreds of years apart? Could the two crimes have anything to do with each other? This is the mystery that brings archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin back to the bogs of beautiful Tipperary in central Ireland. At Killowen, a local artist retreat where Cormac and Nora are staying, secrets simmer below the surface and it seems everyone’s a suspect. As the evidence unfolds, mysteries of the past become present again, and questions begin to swirl around medieval manuscripts and ancient philosophies of good and evil. Cormac and Nora work with the local detectives in a race to figure out how the past informs the present, and whose secret was worth killing to protect.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. The prologue reveals to us what happened to the bog man all those centuries ago, providing information to readers that the modern-day characters are still in search of. How do you think the experience of reading the story would have been different without the prologue?

    2. Nora and Cormac are recurring characters in Erin Hart’s books, but the point of view rotates often and there are important characters featured as well. Who did you consider the most central figure? Whose story were you most interested in?

    3. On p. 35, Claire reflects on the eight people including herself who have come to live and work at Killowen, thinking of them as "this whole rootless menagerie of misfits who’d arrived on her doorstep like strays, all looking for something." What do you think they were each looking for? Have any of them found it?

    4. The Book of Killowen is a bit of a whodunit—so many of the characters have an air of suspicion surrounding them. Who did you think was guilty of the present-day murders? Did you suspect there were multiple killers, or question different people at different points in the story?

    5. On p. 99-100, Mairéad says, “It’s always been a mystery to me, how a few words scribbled down a thousand years ago could be so earth-shattering today.” Words are a strong theme in the story. Characters struggle with words, search for words, hold them back, study them, etc. Discuss this theme and how words are significant in the overall plot and to specific characters.

    6. Do you think the National Museum is the right place for The Book of Killowen to be kept, or should it stay with the Beglan family?

    7. Do you agree with Stella's decision to burn the photos of Claire? Why or why not?

    8. Re-read the quotes that open each of the six books within the story. What is their significance? Did they give you any clues to the story, or do they now in retrospect?

    9. The peat in the bog has miraculous powers of preservation. While the whole world outside of the bog was changing, the bog man and his possessions were preserved for centuries. Discuss the ways in which preservation is a theme throughout the novel.

    10. Killowen is a veritable cauldron of secrets. Nearly all of its occupants have something to hide. Discuss the secrets these people kept and how their lives were affected for better or worse once their secrets finally came out.

    11. What do you think of Barry’s change of heart? Should Stella take him back? Why or why not?

    12. How do you think Cormac's relationship with his father will change now that he knows about his sister? Why do you think Eliana decided not to tell Cormac on her own?

    13. Part of the controversy surrounding The Book of Killowen is the position its writer takes on the existence of evil. Nora then wonders, “If evil doesn’t really exist, does it mean that things like goodness and decency aren’t real either?” (p. 399) What do you think? Does evil exist? Can one exist without the other?

    14. There were quite a few twists and turns as the story came to a close—secrets revealed, mysteries solved—what was the most surprising plot point to you? Was there something you never saw coming?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. On p.308-309, Gwynn says, “Imagine stumbling upon a unique collection of words and ideas and images so fantastic that it was worth spending months or even years of your life copying it out so that others would be able to share in and appreciate its splendor.” Try to find a poem or passage that means something to you. Spend some time carefully copying it down into a journal, or perhaps in a letter if there is someone else you’d like to share it with. Consider passing your copied words around at your book club meeting to share their splendor!

    2. Lucien and Sylvie were quite the cheese makers. Have a tasting during your discussion, perhaps from a local farm or small cheese shop where you can learn a little bit about the types of cheese you decide to buy.

    3. This book is full of authentic Irish sayings. Have you ever heard someone say “half-eight” instead of eight-thirty? Exclaim “Jaysus” instead of Jesus? Were there any other Irish-isms you noticed in the book? Do a quick look online to see what other sayings you can find.

    Customer Reviews

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    The Book of Killowen 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
    ElementaryPenguin More than 1 year ago
    I bought this book as part of BNs Christmas bargain book deal, and I'm very glad I did. I enjoyed this book so much, in fact, that I subsequently bought and read her other three books. So, I'm all caught up now, and Ms. Hart needs to write faster. Objectively, Hart's novels bear a strong kinship to Kathy Reich's "Bones" novels, which is understandable, since both series deal with murder mysteries involving exhumed bodies. So far, I prefer Hart's work, because she is one of those truly gifted authors whose prose can sometimes melt into poetry. The subject matter is pretty limited, however, so I have to wonder how long she will be able to keep it fresh, which became a problem for me with Ms. Reich's novels.
    AvidReader54MN More than 1 year ago
    In her fourth novel, Erin Hart returns to Ireland and the bog people, with a twist. The bog body is discovered with a more recent corpse, in the trunk of a car buried in the bog. Who is the ancient corpse, and how did it get displaced from its preservation in the bog to the trunk of a modern car? These questions are answered in a suspenseful read, an exceptional mystery by an exceptional writer. The book has just been selected as a finalist in the 2014 Book Awards.
    1nookworm More than 1 year ago
    Couldn't put this book down! Definitely looking forward to reading more from this author. Love the style....modern day rural Ireland, police, history and art all rolled up in one.
    HeavyReaderChgo More than 1 year ago
    I've read all Erin Hart's books--they're wonderful! If you want what I want from a book (likeable characters, interesting mystery plot, local color--in this case, Ireland--a bit of global history or archeology) then this author and her books are for you. And, the 'bog people' background is fascinating to me. Erin Hart is one of my favorites--check her out!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Well written. Couldn't put it down!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Good read
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    These books are some of the more readable books l have seen in some time. It's not because I am Irish (I'm not. ) It's not due to my anthropology degree or the fact that I am a fellow twin citian to the author . The books are just that good. Good science, good imagination, good word pictures. Which leads to my one request. Not all of us are celtic or celtic speakers. Please Ms. Hart, provide us with a glossary or at least a pronounciation guide for personal names, place names, etc. Some definitions would be nice. Other than that, I've never seen an author progress from wow to jaw-dropping in just four books like that. Thank you so much. When does book five come out?
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A riviting read. I couldn't put it down i love that it was based on historical facts that , normally, i find dull. This was anything but. I highly recommend it
    2_Irish_Girls More than 1 year ago
    This book was simply brilliant. I am still reeling from the creativity of Author Erin Hart. The way she intertwined the ancient history with modern Ireland was truly enthralling. The use of archeology to help solve the mystery was almost as much fun as the mystery itself. I don’t think I could have enjoyed this book more. Nora & Cormac are dynamic characters dripping with intelligence and charisma. I will happily read any book starring these two. I was instantly attracted to them and found them easy to relate to. Neither is pushover, rather they complement one another beautifully. Adding to the mystique is a group of eccentric artists, each with their own secrets. Resist the urge to purchase a ticket to Ireland after reading this book! It is incredibly descriptive. I felt like I was sitting on the rolling green hills as I read. Beyond that, this book taught me a great deal about Ireland’s history. It was fascinating. I was just as wrapped up in the mystery as I was with the times gone by. Like I said, this book was brilliant. It was a roller-coaster ride at its finest and even brought me to tears at the end. 5 Stars for The Book of Killowen and pair it with pint of Guinness.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Pulled me in and kept me engaged.
    LookingForGoodBooks More than 1 year ago
    I have not read anything by this author before. She is very good. I will be sure to follow up with other books by her.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It kept my interest through out the whole book! Couldn't put it down.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Manuscript might have been interesting but came off as just filler with tedious details of oak gall etc no need for maps and chapter headings in latin and galic english enough. Not a keeper and wont bother reading more by author. buska
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    scduckett13 More than 1 year ago
    I just got to this book. It's been intriguing so far. Always a mix of ancient and modern secrets, with motives for murder never changing, no matter what time you live in. Erin Hart anchors this novel in the bogs of Ireland moving easily back and forth between 800-900 a.d. and today. She's done her research on bog bodies and the preserving effects it has on old or new bodies. Makes you wonder just how many bodies are still out there! Love her books. A little formulaic but that's ok too.
    Quidd More than 1 year ago
    As good for the visual imagery as the mystery.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Enjoyed the story