reviewed by Elizabeth White
When the editors of Requiems for the Departed asked me to write a story for the anthology, an image of a bogman immediately clicked into my head. And that’s where it stayed for month after month until near the deadline.
All I had to go on was the fact that bogmen were either the victims of murder, or sacrificial victims. Then memories came to me: a story I read years ago about pre-history life around Stonehenge, where the Druid chose as that year’s offering a woman, who had annoyed him; a lone hill near Coalisland, in County Tyrone rising out of the bogs; and the seeming chance that some bog roads are maintained as important county roads and others abandoned to nature.
I don’t particularly believe in ghosts and things that go bump in the night, but I do have experience of something out there, of portents and signs, so I buy into the crows and the old washerwoman foretelling the death of Cúchulainn, which I have used in my story.
The rest came from two evenings spent turf cutting as a child and the feel of freedom that open spaces give me.
The story also allows me to make a belated apology by dedicating this story to Sorley O’Dornan. On the way to the bog, riding on the bar of his bike, I managed to poke my foot between the spokes. We cartwheeled into the — luckily dry — ditch.
Combining ancient Celtic legends and the amazing powers of preservation found in peat bogs, John McAllister has created in “Bog Man” a wonderfully atmospheric murder investigation set in the lowlands of Iron Age Britain.
Thrust directly into an investigation already in progress, the reader joins Tarlóir, a displaced hill-man whose job it is to bring order to the lowlands, in his search to identify who killed the “bog man” body he’s been called to investigate. Was the man a victim of murder, or a ritual sacrifice? In order to find out Tarlóir will have to confront a secretive, closed community known as the Morrigans (surely a nod to the book’s publisher, Morrigan Books).
A man once young and wild for whom “upholding the law of the Feni was lifetime penalty for his own youthful revolt,” Tarlóir has finally reached a thoughtful, contemplative point in his life. Patiently picking through the clues left for him by the bog man’s corpse and surround articles Tarlóir brings to mind Gil Grissom (CSI) as an ancient Highlander or an Iron Age Sherlock Holmes.
McAllister has great skill at evoking powerful images and vividly brings to life a very different time and place. Readers can almost feel the peat bog sucking greedily at their feet, and will sympathize with Tarlóir’s longing for the “honest cold” of the highlands, not the
sneaky “persistent wind” of the lowlands that’s always finding “a gap at his neckline and chilling his back.”
As can be the case with a short story the experience felt a bit stilted, with the ending in particular seeming rather abrupt. All in all, however, I found “Bog Man” to be both an enjoyable read and a refreshing change of pace as far as the setting for a murder investigation goes.