Updated: Apr 5, 2018
If you have already visited my blog, you may have noticed that my mother and I love to read and discuss books! I can attribute my first review to her, as The Unquiet Grave by New York Times best selling author Sharyn McCrumb is one of the books she passed along to me, which we were both able to truly enjoy. Though I finished this book at the beginning of the month, I thought this would be a great start for my first official book review. Since my blog is called Mountain Mama, which is synonymous with the beautiful state of West Virginia, one of the reasons I chose to review this novel is that the story is based on in, none other than, West Virginia.
The Unquiet Grave is described as "a finely-wrought novel set in 19th century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history — the case of the Greenbrier Ghost". Though I became more familiar with the West Virginia legend throughout the book, I was only vaguely familiar with the story of the Greenbrier Ghost prior to reading the novel. For historical reference, the case of the Greenbrier Ghost refers to the miraculous story behind the murder of Zona Shue Heaster, and the conviction of her murderer, her husband, Edward "Trout" Shue. Though murder cases are quite common in the literary and real world, the details of the case are quite unique, as the victim's death was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to recount the true violent cause of her death. As readers of The Unquiet Grave will find out, there is more than meets the eye to the characters and events that took place in this fascinating novel. Through research of West Virginia history and folklore, Sharyn McCrumb is able to bring to life the people and events of Greenbrier County in 1897.
The novel mainly depicts the perspectives of two characters, Mary Jane Heaster, the mother of the Zona Shue Heaster (the "Greenbrier Ghost"), and James Gardner, the assistant defense attorney in the case convicting Edward "Trout" Shue of murder. Though seldom, there are a few chapters that branch out to the perspectives of Zona's treating physician and the prosecuting attorney in the case. First, readers are introduced to James Gardner, an African American attorney, who in his later years, resides in a segregated insane asylum in Lakin, West Virginia in 1930 after a failed suicide attempt. Though the story begins separate from the theme of the Greenbrier Ghost case, readers learn the Mr. Gardner was a part of the shocking trial of Edward "Trout" Shue." As Mr. Gardner's story is expanded throughout the novel, readers can catch a glimpse into his prosperous but difficult life as one of the only African American attorneys in Southern West Virginia.
The second perspective of The Unquiet Grave is of Mary Jane Heaster. Readers learn of Zona Shue Heaster, Edward "Trout Heaster", and other important characters through the eyes of the prudent and composed Mary Jane. Mary Jane is a personal favorite character, as McCrumb's depiction of this woman is one of maternal love, strength, and intuition. Mary Jane's persistence towards seeking not only justice, but peace, for her deceased daughter is praiseworthy. From the importance of Mary Jane's unwavering faith in her daughter's spirit in real life to her character in The Unquiet Grave, one can say that McCrumb's portrayal is exemplary. Not only are the portrayals of Mr. Gardner and Mary Jane exceptional, but the depiction of each character brings to mind a clear image of how the real life counterpart may have truly been.
McCrumb's ability to illustrate characters and evoke emotions in readers comes with ease. I found it effortless to imagine myself in the cold hills of Greenrbier County in the wintertime, or in the throes of the animated court room during the trial of Edward "Trout" Shue. The Unquiet Grave is an interesting read for those who are familiar with the Greenbrier Ghost story and folklore, but is a fascinating choice to an audience of readers that would not have known of these events prior to picking up the book.The Unquiet Grave has a bit of everything an adult fiction fan needs, including mystery, history, vivid characters, and so much more. It is a pleasure to read, and is my favorite book of 2018 thus far (even though we are only twenty-four days in)!
Editor's Note: If you are interested in purchasing the book, see below for more information and where I bought my copy of The Unquiet Grave (though you may purchase the book from wherever you choose!)
The Unquiet Grave
By: Sharyn McCrumb
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published September 12th 2017 by Atria Books
Purchased on Amazon.com for $14.91.