The Unquiet Grave, by Sharyn McCrumb

32620367The Unquiet Grave is another entry in Sharyn McCrumb’s long bibliography in which the author takes an Appalachian folk tale and turns the story into a novel. Here, she shows the depth and breadth of her research in telling the story of Zona Heaster Shue, the Greenbriar Ghost. This book has some very good characterization, but I feel there were missed opportunities, as well as a lot of repetitive text that needed to be edited out.

While The Unquiet Grave opens with James Gardner, an African American lawyer who defended Zona’s husband during his murder trial, the heart of this book is Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother. The way she tells it, Mary Jane always knew Edward Shue was no-good. Unfortunately for her daughter, Zona was so stubborn and in love that she wouldn’t listen to a word of caution. It breaks Mary Jane’s heart when she learns that, only a few months after her wedding, Zona is dead.

Then Zona’s ghost shows up to tell Mary Jane the Edward killed her.

The novel shifts back between James and Mary Jane. From Mary Jane, we get the more emotional side of the story, one of a mother who will not rest until her daughter has justice. From James, we get the more rational side of the story, with dueling lawyers and a stack of circumstantial evidence. We also get a lot of local history from James, so much that I started to get exasperated at the way one anecdote would back into another so that we get a whole capsule biography of one of the lawyers and learn what happened in Greenbriar County, West Virginia, during the Civil War. It’s only towards the end of the novel that we get back to Edward’s trial and (maybe) find out what really happened.

McCrumb did a lot of research for The Unquiet Grave, but there are many sections where I feel she gave into the temptation to show off everything she knew whether it advanced the central story or not. If you are the kind of reader who enjoys listening to older relatives tell stories about the old days and folks they knew, perhaps you will enjoy The Unquiet Grave more than I did.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 12 September 2017.


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