To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Unquiet Grave: A Novel Hardcover – September 12, 2017
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
"Unquiet indeed." (Kirkus)
"In this compelling story, McCrumb continues to relate the dynamic tales of Appalachia and its people." (Library Journal)
“McCrumb has a real knack for crafting full-bodied characters and using folklore to construct compelling plots.” (Booklist)
"Appalachia is an area steeped in dark history, mystery, and ghost stories as old as the hills. Sharyn McCrumb weaves her literary magic once more with the 1897 haunting tale of a young girl named Zona and the people who fought for her spirit’s justice. The Unquiet Grave, while based on historical fact and record, is woven with legend and carefully handcrafted as only McCrumb can accomplish. The Greenbrier Ghost has once again risen to claim its rightful place among America’s best ghost stories and the most rare—the ones that are actually true." (Sherri Brake, author of The Haunted History of the West Virginia Penitentiary)
About the Author
Sharyn McCrumb is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Ballad novels. She has received a numerous honors for her work, including the Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Southern Literature, the AWA Book of the Year, and Notable Books in both the New York Times and LA Times. She was also named a “Virginia Woman of History” for Achievement in Literature. She lives and writes in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, fewer than one hundred miles from where her family settled in 1790.
Top customer reviews
The author has done a marvelous job of pulling out the facts from all of the folklore surrounding this murder. She researched census records, birth and death certificates, property records, maps and photographs and a long paper trail. She brings these people back to life and I was completely captivated by their story. The author lets her story be told alternately by Zona’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, and by Shue’s attorney, James P.D. Gardner. Interestingly, Gardner tells his part of the story to a psychiatrist while he’s confined to a mental hospital in 1930. Gardner was the first black attorney to practice law in the State of Virginia and this is his most memorable case.
I would have given this fascinating account of such a very unusual trial 5 stars except for the quite lengthy examination of the checkered career of the lead prosecutor, W.P. Rucker. While I can certainly understand why the author wanted to include this since it’s of historic interest, that part dragged a bit for me. My main interest in the book was the mother’s quest for justice for her beloved daughter’s murder. I felt such empathy for her as she struggled with her fears for her daughter as she entered this obviously unstable marriage and her grief when her daughter’s life was so brutally ended.
This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Based upon the legend of the Greenbrier Ghost, our story is set in West Virginia in 1897. Zola Heaster is swept away by the handsome young blacksmith that comes to her tiny Appalachian farming community. Her story is told to us primarily in a first person narrative by her mother, Mary Jane. Magnetic physical attraction overwhelms any common sense Zona may possess—which isn’t much—so when the handsome stranger comes along, Zona tumbles:
“Zona was well nigh smirking at him—cat-in-the-cream-jug smug, she was. Well, Mr. Shue—the name fits the trade, I see—I am Miss Zona Heaster, a visitor to my cousin’s house, here. How do…Well before Edward ‘Call me Trout’ Shue came ambling along, with his possum grin and his storybook profile, we’d had trouble with Zona.”
Before we can draw breath, Zona is pregnant. It isn’t the first time, either, though the first was kept quiet, settled out of the area. As her mother wonders whether Trout will want to marry her, Zona brags,
“’He’d be lucky to have me.’
“’Well, Zona, it seems that he already has.’”
Mary Jane doesn’t like her daughter’s suitor, and a number of small but troubling things make her reluctant to see this wedding take place, even given the shotgun-wedding circumstances. We are disquieted, not by huge monstrous overt acts by Shue, but by the small hints that provide a deeper suspicion, a sense of foreboding. Part of McCrumb’s genius is in knowing when less is more.
Ultimately, Zona marries and moves away, and is little heard from. Too little. And here is the mother’s dilemma that most of us will recognize: how much should a mother pry? Will it make things better to follow our nose to the source of trouble; can we help? Or will our efforts only antagonize one or both of the newlyweds? And I love Zona’s father, the laconic Jacob who tells his wife that Zona has made the choice to marry, and she’s made the choice to stay there, so “Let her go, Mary Jane.”
But it’s a terrible mistake.
A secondary thread alternates with this one. The year is 1930; attorney James P.D. Gardner is consigned to a segregated insane asylum following a suicide attempt. His doctor is the young James Boozer, who has decided to try the new technique that involves talking to one’s patients. This device works wonderfully here because it provides Gardner the opportunity to discuss a particularly interesting case he tried many years prior, one that involved defending a white man accused of murdering his wife. The conversation flows organically, rather than as a monologue shoehorned into the prose. I am surprised at first to see McCrumb write dialogue for African-American men; I don’t think she has done this before, although I can’t swear to this.( I have been reading her work since the 90s and may have forgotten a few things along the way.) The dialogue between Gardner and Boozer is dignified and natural, and this is a relief; those that have read my reviews know that there have been others that failed in this regard. And just as the discussion starts to drone—intentional, since one of the two men yawns just at the moment I do—everything wakes up, and we learn about the trial of Trout Shue from a different vantage point.
Every aspect of this novel is done with the authority and mastery of Appalachian fiction for which McCrumb is legendary. The dialect is so resonant that I find myself using it in writing, speech, and even thought—just tiny snippets here and there—and then laughing at myself. And I cannot help wondering how much of it stewed its way into McCrumb’s own conversations while she was writing. You may find it in yours.
The result here is spellbinding, and the use of Appalachian legend, herbal medicine, and folklore makes it all the more mesmerizing. Again, skill and experience tell here. How many novels have I read in which an author’s research is shoehorned in to such a degree that it hijacks the plot? Not so here. The cultural tidbits are an integral part of Mary Jane’s personality, and there’s no teasing them apart. Instead of distracting as it might in less capable hands, the folklore develops character and setting, and ultimately contributes to the plot, when Zona’s ghost returns to let Mary Jane know that she has been murdered.
This is no-can-miss fiction, strongly recommended to those with a solid command of the English language and a love of great literature.
The gist of her book revolves around the death of Zona Hester Shue who was killed by her husband Trout. At first everyone believes Zona died from an accidental death but her mother claimed to have seen a vision telling about what really happened to her daughter.
Eventually the legal authorities take note and decide to investigate leading to the arrest of Trout and later trial.
I won't write more as that would give away the plot. Suffice it to say this book will keep you interested and the ending is a bit of a surprise.
Review written after downloading a galley from Net Galley.
Most recent customer reviews
Reviewed by Tori
The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb is an thought provoking tale...Read more