Book Review: The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

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The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

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.

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