ANOTHER GREAT READ FOR APRIL, 2018
So, everyone - before we start, what do you think of my amazing new look?! Thanks to dear Library computer supremo Joanne Dillon (JD), my blog looks totally amazing - needless to say, it would have stayed back in the dark ages for ever and ever if it had to rely on my non-existent designing talents, but a change is as good as a rest, and I think the change here is FABULOUS. Six stars, JD!
The Unquiet Grave, by Sharyn McCrumb
The Greenbrier Ghost is firmly imbedded in West Virginia folklore, as well it should be: after all, what other man in United States history was convicted of the murder of his young wife by the testament of her ghost – as
stated by her mother at his trial.
In 1897, backwoods Farmer’s daughter Zona Heaster is married in unseemly haste to Erasmus ‘Trout’ Shue, a young blacksmith new to the area. He is handsome, muscular, full of charm; she is pretty, bold and already experienced more than she should be ‘in the ways of men’. Her parents are worried; the groom has been married before – twice! – and one wife died of an accident within a year of marriage. The other ex-wife gives him a wide berth. Zona, that impulsive, bored, and flighty girl has never taken to the hard life that is her mother’s lot; her housekeeping skills are non-existent, and she and her new husband are living a long distance away to be nearer to his work, so Mary Jane, Zona’s mother, can’t visit regularly to make sure that she is performing her wifely duties satisfactorily. And Mary Jane’s misgivings are horrifyingly correct: within two months riders appear at the family farm to notify them that Zona is dead ‘from a fall’, and her grieving husband will be bringing her body back for burial in her home county.
Yes, ‘Trout’ Shue does return Zona’s body to her grieving family, but he isn’t sad at all, in fact he is laughing and joking with his companions as they unload the body: Mary Jane is incensed, and swears to find out how her daughter, that poor silly girl, really died, especially as the ghost of Zona appears to her, saying that she had been murdered – and a subsequent exhumation and autopsy proves the truth of that statement: it doesn’t help that Shue yells as he is arrested: ‘you’ll never prove it!’. In the eyes of everyone he is guilty as sin.
Ms McCrumb’s impressive novelised account of this true event then shifts to 1930 and the incarceration in the Lakin mental hospital for the ‘Coloured Insane’. James Gardiner was Shue’s assistant attorney at the blacksmith’s trial; while he believed innately in Shue’s guilt, he still wanted to give the best defense possible, and he and his white mentor managed to get the well-deserved death sentence reduced to life – an ultimately fitting punishment, for ‘Trout’ Shue could never abide being confined in small spaces, or living on pig-swill. Gardiner has made a suicide attempt and during his talks with a sympathetic coloured psychiatrist, his memories of his first important trial emerge, clear as a bell. The Greenbrier Ghost is vibrantly alive – thanks to the unshakeable, confident testimony of Zona’s mother: but was it really the truth?
It is not easy to make facts live and breathe again with all the urgency and immediacy of today’s news, but Ms McCrumb effortlessly manages the task: in her fine and capable prose these notorious historical events are painfully real once more, especially the great, unhealed divide between North and South created by the Civil war, and the grief and agony of a mother sworn to avenge her child. FIVE STARS.