Monday, October 2, 2017

The Unquiet Grave

Title:  The Unquiet Grave
Author:  Sharyn McCrumb
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1476772878 / 978-1476772875

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The place was as quiet as it every got in the hours around midnight, with only occasional screams or sobs from the cells down the corridor to disturb hi contemplation."

Favorite Quote:  "I reckon he could'a done worse, and I could'a done better, but we soldiered on and made a family, which is all there is, when you come right down to it."

The testimony of a ghost helps convict a murderer in the 1890s in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. In reality or so the story goes. Zona Heaster Shue died young, a new bride in her home away from her  parents. Initially, it was thought she fell and died of the injuries before she was discovered. Later, it was said that she was murdered. The story goes that Zona's own words to her mother helped to discover the truth of what happened.

This is the story of the Greenbrier Ghost and as the book description claims, a story "based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history."

Zona Heaster's short life was full of misadventure, anguish, and heartbreak for her parents, and that was before she died at such a young age. At some point, her father urged her mother to let Zona go. That meant marriage to Edward "Trout" Shue. He was a drifter new to town, and Zona fell in love.

Mary Jane Heaster allowed the marriage to happen although she had her doubts. She allowed Zona to make her choices, but she would not let go as Zona's father suggested. A mother's love kept leading her back. Upon Zona's death, she pursued the case, claiming that Zona's spirit appeared to her and told her that she was murdered.

The book builds a fictional story around this unique history. It builds a background for Zona's life, depicts the events leading to her death, and the case after.

The book alternates between two completely different perspectives. The first is Mary Jane Heaster, who had the courage to see her daughter for who she was and, at the same time, love her unconditionally. Her love and strength is a focal point of the book. The other perspective is that of an attorney, who is now in an insane asylum. He encounters a young physician who wishes to try a new idea - a "talking" cure for mental illness. (Remember, this is the 1800s.) James P D Gardner was an attorney, who found himself defending Edward Shue. Although the reason for his insanity does not stem from the case, he finds himself narrating the case to the doctor. One perspective is that of love, emotion, and involvement; the other is that of detachment and analysis. Both are tales of reaching for and finally finding closure.

Through these two perspectives and descriptive language, the author creates an atmospheric ghost story. Through one or the other, gradually, the other players in the story are introduced. The connection of the characters to the story is sometimes not apparent at the time of their introduction. Knowing the history of Zona Heaster Shue's case prior to reading the book would be helpful because then each newly introduced character could be placed in context. The book needs almost a cast of characters, with names and roles, much like a play to accomplish the same purpose.

The atmosphere and the unique history are the memorable aspects of this book. Once again, I find myself marveling at the ability of fiction to introduce me to a history I may never otherwise have learned.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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