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The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel (Ballad Novels) Paperback – August 21, 2012

100 customer reviews
Book 9 of 9 in the Ballad Novels Series

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Editorial Reviews


“McCrumb's tale is impeccably researched ... McCrumb's novel casts light on the often bleak context surrounding characters who have become legend.” ―Publishers Weekly

“In a story with parallels to Wuthering Heights, McCrumb makes a strong case for a sociopathic servant as the catalyst for the deadly events that ensued.True to the language and culture of its time and place.” ―Library Journal

About the Author

SHARYN MCCRUMB is the author of The Rosewood Casket, She Walks These Hills and many other acclaimed novels. Her books have been named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. She was named a "Virginia Woman of History" for Achievement in Literature in 2008. She lives and writes in the Virginia Blue Ridge, less than a hundred miles from where her family settled in 1790 in the Smoky Mountains that divide North Carolina and Tennessee.


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Product Details

  • Series: Ballad Novels
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250007453
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250007452
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am an award-winning Southern writer. I am probably best known for my
Appalachian "Ballad" novels, set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains. These books include New York Times Best Sellers She Walks These Hills and The Rosewood Casket, which deal with the issue of the vanishing wilderness, and The Ballad of Frankie Silver, the story of the first woman hanged for murder in the state of North Carolina; The Songcatcher, a genealogy in music; and Ghost Riders, an account of the Civil War in the Appalachians.

My newest novel St. Dale, the Canterbury Tales set in NASCAR, was published by Kensington Books of New York in 2005, and is currently a nominee for the Library of Virginia Literary Award in Fiction and a finalist for its People's Choice Award.

Honors include: the 2003 Award for Literature given by the
East Tennessee Historical Society; AWA Outstanding Contribution to
Appalachian Literature Award; Chaffin Award for Achievement in Southern
Literature; Plattner Award for Short Story; and AWA's Best Appalachian

I was the first writer-in-residence at King College in Tennessee. In 2001 I
served as fiction writer-in-residence at the WICE Conference in Paris, and
in 2005 I was honored as the writer of the year at the annual literary
celebration at Emory and Henry College. (And I was the first Southern writer to take along a NASCAR driver to that literary seminar. Thank you, Ward Burton!)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By kwb on October 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Unlike many of the readers that have reviewed the book, I did know about the background story for this ballad. Yes, I knew the song, but I am also very well versed in the history of the characters. I grew up in Wilkes County, have heard about the case my whole life, and actually tell the story myself as a tour guide in Wilkesboro. I was extremely excited when the book was announced because Sharyn McCrumb is one of my favorite authors, and I couldn't wait to read her treatment of this case. I was not disappointed at all!

The story McCrumb has written does deviate greatly from the version that I grew up hearing, and slightly from the way I tell it myself. I knew this ahead of time from reading background info on McCrumb's website, so I was prepared. I was fortunate enough to be able to actually meet the author and discuss the "facts" with her prior to reading the book, and I must say that her arguments made sense to me. Her conclusions about who actually killed Laura Foster and Tom's role in the episode matched what I have always believed. Pauline as the great pathological mastermind struck me as a little far-fetched (I think McCrumb gives Pauline way too much credit for intelligence), but I can accept that. And I know that many folks from the area have taken offense to the portrayal of Laura Foster as less than the virginal victim of a crime of passion. But in this case, she was what she was, and the purity that was attributed to her in death was not the reputation that followed her during her short life.

My one complaint about the book is Zebulon Vance's narratives. I understand that McCrumb is using Vance to balance the portrayal of mountain folks, and he is definitely a stark contrast to the Happy Valley crowd.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Emmy Miller on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have loved Sharyn McCrumb's work since I first discovered The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. Since then, I have followed her career with great delight and Amazon pre-orders (with the exception of her NASCAR enthusiasms, which I do not share). I was delighted to find this book when it was announced on and promptly pre-ordered it for my Kindle. I am sorry to say that I had to force myself to get though it.

While McCrumb's research and descriptive powers are strong, as always, the presentation of the story was not appealing or captivating, in the way that I have come to expect and enjoy from the Ballad Novels. First, I agree with the other review, who said that Pauline was a thoroughly unappealing and unsympathetic character. While McCrumb accurately describes her in the Acknowledgements as a sociopath, that was a little late to be putting a label on this characteristic. It would have been helpful to know this from the start. I kept waiting, all through the book, to find out *why* Pauline was scheming to do in Ann and Tom, by association, and why she was just such an icky person (a technical term!). I never got an answer to either question. I imagine that there were sociopaths in the 1860s, but some back-story on Pauline might have made her a character that I was more interested in, as opposed to just slogging through the book to find out what happened.

Second, I learned way more that I wanted to know about Zebulon Vance in Ghost Riders, although I thoroughly enjoyed that book and felt like the feelings, views, and motivations of the characters were well-described and accessible to the reader.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John Hood on September 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Telling the Tall Tale Behind the Ballad of Tom Dooley

SunPost Weekly September 22, 2011 John Hood

On May Day, 1868, in the town of Statesville, North Carolina, a man named Tom Dula was hanged for murder. The victim, a slip of a woman named Laura Foster, had been stabbed to death and hastily buried on a ridge in nearby Wilkes County. Dula was believed to have been the last person to see her alive. More damagingly, Laura had told folks she and Tom were running away together; though in fact they had no such plans. Yes, the two had a long and carnal relationship. But Dula told authorities it meant nothing. He most certainly didn't care enough to kill her.

There was of course a third party to this sordid story -- Dula's married lover Ann Melton, who was also believed to be involved in Foster's death and at the time of the hanging was in jail awaiting her own murder trial. Tom and Ann had been rutting about like wild animals since they both first learned of the birds and the bees. Since that time there'd been a Civil War (which took Tom away for awhile). Then there was Ann's marriage (which didn't take him away from her much at all). For all intents and purposes, these two were meant for each other.

On the eve of his execution, Dula performed what was perhaps the only gallant deed of his short and shiftless life: he wrote out a note claiming sole responsibility for the killing of Laura Foster. As a result, Ann was subsequently freed.

As you've by now probably guessed, the legend of Tom Dula eventually became a song called "Tom Dooley," arguably the most well-known murder ballad every written. But The Kingston Trio's version of the story is just one of the legend's many renderings; it's also factually inaccurate.
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