The Unquiet Grave
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From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes this finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.
Lakin, West Virginia, 1930—Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P.D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, Boozer encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. In his forty-year career, Gardner’s most memorable case was the one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.
Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897—Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains of West Virginia. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, the handsome blacksmith who has recently come to Greenbrier County. After weeks of silence, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that Zona has died. A month after the funeral, determined to get justice for her daughter, Mary Jane informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered.
With its unique blend of masterful research and mesmerizing folklore illuminating the story’s fascinating and complex characters, The Unquiet Grave confirms Sharyn McCrumb’s place among the finest Southern writers at work today.
A Haunting Tale Set in the Old South
The Unquiet Grave is a very enjoyable novel in which author Sharyn McCrumb marvelously brings the “old South” to life. The novel is two stories really, one detailing the murder of Zona Shue from the perspective of Zona’s mother, Mary Jane, and the other revealing the golden years of Defense Attorney James PD Gardner who share’s his past and life perspective with the young doctor determining his fitness for release from suicide watch in a mental institution.
The beauty of the dual narration is that we see rural southern life from two different perspectives of race and social standing within Greenbrier County West Virginia. Mary Jane is a proud white farmer scraping to make ends meet while seeking justice for the murder of her daughter. Author McCrumb brings her beautifully to life with elegant idioms that are true to both the era and the region. Mr. Gardner is an equally proud black attorney fighting to climb the economic ladder as a professional while overcoming the odds of someone of color attaining success in that era. McCrumb’s character development of Gardner is cleverly achieved through Gardner’s own storytelling of his past.
Mary Jane is a witness for the prosecution of Zona’s accused murderer, and Gardner is the defense attorney. Plot development of the murder trial seems effortless as we alternate between Mary Jane’s present and Gardner’s retelling of the past. Throw in the fact that the prosecution’s case might need to rely on Mary Jane’s testimony based on an encounter with Zona’s ghost, and we have ample opportunity surprise as we await the trial’s resolution.
An excellent read, author McCrumb had me wondering about the history of Greenbrier resort the entire time.