Historical Fiction

The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What drew me to this novel was that it was a historical fiction based on a real murder case. And let me tell you, this is a VERY unique murder case. Especially since the accusation was made by the murder victim! Anyways, let me not ruin all of the details. Here is my review:

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
After a failed suicide, attorney James P. D. Gardner is placed in an insane asylum, where he is under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Dr. Boozer has just come out of medical school and is eager to try a new talking cure for insanity, instead of using the current treatments. As such, he encourages Gardner to talk about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in 19th-century West Virginia, where Gardner’s most memorable case was the one where he helped defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride. The interesting part? The prosecution based their testimony on a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Zona Heaster has always known she is beautiful, but her willfulness and arrogance have caused many a heartache. Despite her mother’s warnings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a handsome blacksmith new to the area. However, as soon as they married, Zona was whisked away and no one was able to come and see her at her new home. After weeks of silence, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that their daughter Zona has died after an unfortunate tumble down the stairs. But Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, knows this is not an accident and she is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

It cannot be denied that the author has put in a lot of work to research every aspect of this case and present it from all sides. We read from Mary Jane’s perspective as she struggles to find justice for her daughter, even as her own husband refuses to help. We read from Gardner’s perspective as he recounts the investigation and his own impression of his client. While the case itself was interesting, I think that the writing was not executed as well as I might have liked. The beginning was very intriguing and had me hooked. However, the story started to drag on towards the middle until about the 90% mark of the book. I think this may have been because of the perspective of Mr. Gardner. Most of the information mentioned in that section was not very useful and could have been omitted. Maybe it would have been interesting to someone who wanted to know more about the historical scene at that point in time but for me, I just wanted to get into the crux of the matter, which was Zona’s case. The trial itself was interesting and the different facts that were brought up were also presented well. Overall, this was a novel that had a premise that I really enjoyed but was perhaps not executed as well as it could have been. I would give this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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