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The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

The Unquiet Grave

by Sharyn McCrumb

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507233,859 (3.61)5



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3.5 Takes a while for this story to actually get going, but I love this type of fiction, so I persevered. A combination of folklore, ghost story and a real murder trial, set at the turn of the century in Appalachia. This author does these types of stories so well, and always does an amazing amount of research. Dark in tone, rich in atmosphere, a strong character in Mary Jane, a mother who would do anything to see that her daughter received justice, at a time when woman had little power.

Inside an asylum for the colored, sits a man, a lawyer, now in his sixties who tried to do away with himself. A young doctor, half his age starts talking to him as a new therapy, and it is during these sessions that the tale unfolds. A strange one it is indeed. The amazing thing is that so much of this is true, real people that lived in the past, actual testimony taken from the trial. Of course, filler is added and this is where the story stalled form a bit, the lawyers backgrounds, the patient and the lead lawyer, who has a very storied past were all disclosed in some length. These parts were for me, very slow reading. Still, the tale as a whole has much to recommend it, and it made for a great October read. I did love the touches she added at books end, added greatly to what had come before.

ARC from Edelweiss. ( )
  Beamis12 | Oct 8, 2017 |
The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb tells the unique history in which the words of a ghost help convict a murderer. The book alternates between the two completely different perspectives of a heartbroken mother and a defense attorney. The atmosphere and the unique history are the memorable aspects of this book. Once again, I marvel at the ability of fiction to introduce me to a history I may never otherwise have learned.

Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2017/10/the-unquiet-grave.html

Reviewed for NetGalley. ( )
  njmom3 | Oct 2, 2017 |
In 1930, successful attorney James P.D. Gardner is an inmate of a segregated West Virginia mental asylum following a suicide attempt. In 1897, the beautiful, reckless, and headstrong Zona Heaster defies her family and marries Edward “Trout” Shue after a whirlwind courtship. Within months, Zona is dead, and her mother, Mary Jane, a stoic West Virginia farmer’s wife, is left bereft, certain that Zona’s new husband is responsible for her death. When Zona’s ghost begins to appear to Mary Jane, dropping hints about the circumstances around her death, Mary Jane sets out to see justice done for her daughter. As the two narratives weave in and out, the story of Zona Heaster, The Greenbriar Ghost, is slowly brought into the light.

I’ve read several of Sharyn McCrumb’s novels and have always been impressed. McCrumb is able to take local West Virginia legends and folklore and create spellbinding mysteries. The Unquiet Grave did not disappoint. McCrumb weaves a story together from two view points: Zona’s (white) mother in 1987, and James Gardner, a (black) attorney in 1930. The story incorporates the roles of race, respectability, and class during America’s Guilded Age.

As usual, McCrumb vividly brings her story to life. You can almost feel the biting winds of the West Virginia Mountain winter. Her characters seem to jump off the page as fully realized people. The story is based upon “The Greenbriar Ghost” legend from the West Virginia hills, but is also painstakingly researched; every character in this book is based upon a real, historical person. This blending of history and legend is what makes McCrumb such a unique writer. In The Unquiet Grave, the supernatural and the factual twine around one another, each a part of a seamless whole.

Fans of historical mysteries should definitely be adding McCrumb’s books to their to-read pile. The Unquiet Grave is a fine example of the genre, and should appeal to most readers.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  irregularreader | Sep 23, 2017 |
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Considering it’s supposed to be somewhat of a ghost story, this book was a lot different than what I’d originally thought it was going to be like. I thought it’d be more folklore and superstition based rather than what is essentially a look at a particular place in a particular period of history, that all happens to connect to this original ghost story. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it (rather the opposite in fact), but it’s less plot and character driven than setting driven, which lends itself well to a historical semi-fiction.

I hate calling this straight-out historical fiction, because McCrumb clearly did a lot of research before writing this novel. It follows the story of a family who lives in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, just post-civil war, and how their unlucky daughter was allegedly killed. The only made-up parts that I could tell were of the actual motivations of the characters and conversations, but as for plot points in general, it almost exactly follows the recorded history of what happened. The story is told through two different perspectives; at one point, it’s told by a black lawyer who’s been locked up in an asylum due to attempted suicide. He was on the defense of the husband of the woman who died, and he reflects to a doctor on what happened in that case. One the other side is Mary Jane Heaster, the mother of the woman who died. The two stories are beautifully interwoven to create a thorough look at the struggles of the area in that particular time period.

It took some time to get used to the style of narration, but I was okay after a couple of chapters, and the story overall is fascinating. I feel like I have more of a grasp of the importance of the Civil War, especially for West Virginia, and how that affected people living there at the time. The characters were complex and interesting enough to compel me to move forward in the story, though when a story follows real people who have lived, I always get a little sidetracked by thinking about what their real motivations might have been, and whether it seems plausible. I do, however, think that McCrumb does an excellent job in fleshing out characters that seem real and complex. The mystery itself I found underwhelming, which is why this book lost a star, but the way McCrumb delves into the setting and explores the time period makes up for the lost interest, and certainly sparked my intrigue and made me want to learn more about it. So, definitely read this if you’re interested in the historical side of things, but if you’re looking for a ghost story, this is not the book for you at all.

Also posted on Purple People Readers. ( )
  sedelia | Sep 18, 2017 |
The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb is a highly recommended historical fiction novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia. The novel is based on the true story of the Greenbrier Ghost.

In 1930 after a failed suicide attempt, attorney James P. D. Gardner is in a segregated insane asylum located in Lakin, West Virginia. He begins a conversation with Dr. James Boozer, a young doctor who wants to try the new cure for insanity which involves talking to his patients. Dr. Boozer encourages his elderly patient to talk about his experiences as the first black attorney when he started practicing. Gardner discusses his most memorable case, a case based on the testimony of a ghost, the infamous Greenbrier Ghost.

In 1897 Erasmus Trout Shue, a white man who was a blacksmith, was on trial in Greenbrier, West Virginia, for killing his bride, Zona Heaster. After they were married and Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster hadn't heard anything from her daughter, she finds out Zona has died. Mary Jane is sure her new husband had a hand in Zona's death and prays for a sign, which she receives. Then she tells the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost has appeared to her several times, saying that she had been murdered. An exhumation and autopsy, ordered by the prosecutor, confirms her claim. At that time, Gardner was apprenticed to barrister William Rucker and acted as second chair in the defense of Shue at his murder trial.

The premise of The Unquiet Grave is intriguing and clearly there was a lot of research that went into incorporating the legend of the Greenbrier Ghost in the story. The quality of the writing is excellent and the characters are well developed. What made the narrative suffer was the interview sections between the doctor and Gardiner in the 1930s, which, while they clearly perform a purpose in the novel, they also slow it down and become, well, a bit boring, especially in comparison to Mrs. Heaster's story. I found myself pushing my way through those chapters to get to the other chapters, which I found more interesting. It should also be noted that the humor McCrumb has in her other books is absent here.

The novel does have some interesting historical insights into Gardner's struggles as a black lawyer in the south and his experience in a segregated asylum in the 1930's. Also Mrs. Heaster's fight for justice for Zona is truly a fight against a justice system controlled by men.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2017/09/the-unquiet-grave.html ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Sep 10, 2017 |
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