From the New York Times bestselling author of Prayers the Devil Answers and The Ballad of Tom Dooley, a “fascinating historical fiction novel you won’t be able to put down” (Bustle) based on one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.
Lakin, West Virginia, 1930: Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P.D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Testing a new talking cure for insanity, Boozer encourages his elderly patient to share his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in 19th-century West Virginia. His memorable case: defending a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.
Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897: Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries the handsome Erasmus Trout Shue, Greenbrier’s newest resident and blacksmith. Her mother learns of her daughter’s death weeks later. A month after the funeral, Zona’s mother makes a chilling claim to the county prosecutor: her daughter was murdered, and she was told this by none other than Zona’s ghost...
With her unique and “real knack for crafting full-bodied characters and using folklore to construct compelling plots” (Booklist), Sharyn McCrumb effortlessly demonstrates her place among the finest Southern writers at work today.
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A Haunting Tale Set in the Old South
The Unquiet Grave is a very enjoyable novel in which author Sharyn McCrumb marvelously brings the “old South” to life. The novel is two stories really, one detailing the murder of Zona Shue from the perspective of Zona’s mother, Mary Jane, and the other revealing the golden years of Defense Attorney James PD Gardner who share’s his past and life perspective with the young doctor determining his fitness for release from suicide watch in a mental institution.
The beauty of the dual narration is that we see rural southern life from two different perspectives of race and social standing within Greenbrier County West Virginia. Mary Jane is a proud white farmer scraping to make ends meet while seeking justice for the murder of her daughter. Author McCrumb brings her beautifully to life with elegant idioms that are true to both the era and the region. Mr. Gardner is an equally proud black attorney fighting to climb the economic ladder as a professional while overcoming the odds of someone of color attaining success in that era. McCrumb’s character development of Gardner is cleverly achieved through Gardner’s own storytelling of his past.
Mary Jane is a witness for the prosecution of Zona’s accused murderer, and Gardner is the defense attorney. Plot development of the murder trial seems effortless as we alternate between Mary Jane’s present and Gardner’s retelling of the past. Throw in the fact that the prosecution’s case might need to rely on Mary Jane’s testimony based on an encounter with Zona’s ghost, and we have ample opportunity surprise as we await the trial’s resolution.
An excellent read, author McCrumb had me wondering about the history of Greenbrier resort the entire time.