Day 1126: The Unquiet Grave

Cover for The Unquiet GraveI have long admired several of Sharyn McCrumb’s “ballad series” mysteries, novels based upon old Appalachian ballads, some of which have a chilling supernatural element. I thought that The Unquiet Grave might be one of these, but instead it is more closely related to her The Ballad of Tom Dooley, which I thought had severe flaws.

The Unquiet Grave, like The Ballad of Tom Dooley, is about a true crime, in which Edward Shue was accused of murdering his wife, Zona, in 1897. The story of this incident, narrated by Zona’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, alternates with the narrative by attorney James P. D. Gardner, the resident in 1930 of a mental asylum. How these stories are connected isn’t explained until about halfway through the novel.

It is when Gardner starts telling his doctor about the case that the story began to lose me. For almost immediately, he maunders off into long stories about his boss at the time of the trial, Shue’s defending attorney, Dr. Rucker. I am sure that McCrumb’s intention, both in this novel and in Tom Dooley, is to tell colorful stories about the region, but the fault in both of these novels is that she gets readers interested in one story only to invoke the wandering memories of some old man, going off in twenty different directions.

link to NetgalleyI did not have the patience for this, so I gave Gardner’s section about 20 pages of time to get back on the subject. When he didn’t, having read more than half the book, I quit reading. I sympathize with what McCrumb is trying to do, trying to invoke the story-telling of an old man who knows a lot of local history, but she lost me twice using this same technique. I think she needs to find a better angle into these true stories of West Virginia.

This is the second book I read for the R.I.P. challenge.

Related Posts

The Ballad of Tom Dooley

Burial Rites

Alias Grace

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4 thoughts on “Day 1126: The Unquiet Grave

  1. Annie September 12, 2017 / 3:50 pm

    Agree! I thought she had too many narrators with too many different styles in this one. I think I would have been happier with more supernatural stuff and with the mother as the sole narrator.

  2. whatmeread September 12, 2017 / 6:56 pm

    That does sound as if it would have been better.

  3. Davida Chazan September 23, 2017 / 1:13 am

    Sounds like a good concept, but it didn’t deliver. Have you read “The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Barry? That might be an antidote to this book!

    • whatmeread September 23, 2017 / 11:29 am

      I just read my first Sebastian Barry book, On Canaan’s Side, and loved it. I have a lot of catching up to do!

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