Fascinating novel based on the true story of the case of the Greenbrier Ghost

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The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Sharyn McCrumb is a long-time favorite author of mine. Her ballad books are food for my literary soul, with her hauntingly beautiful tales of the Appalachian Mountains folklore. This time she’s veered away from those ballads with a historical novel based upon a true incident. There actually was a murder trial where the accused, Erasmus Trout Shue, was brought to trial for the murder of his wife, Zona Heaster Shue, based on the testimony of his deceased wife.  Zona’s mother attests to the fact that her deceased daughter appeared to her and told her how she was murdered, an autopsy was ordered and Trout Shue was brought to trial.  The murder took place in 1897.

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.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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