Sharyn McCrumb, author of the Ballad novels, has traded folk songs for true crime in The Unquiet Grave. Based in Greenbriar County West Virginia in the last years of the 19th century, McCrumb tells the story of Zona Heaster, a woman who was murdered by her husband Trout Shue.
This fictional tale based on the true story of the Greenbrier Ghost is brought to life through two characters, the grieving mother Mary Jane Heaster and the African-American defense attorney James Gardner. Mary Jane tells the story of her wild child daughter and her ill-fated marriage to the no-count Trout Shue. While Mary Jane tells the story of her quest to find justice for Zona, we see much more of Mary Jane than we do of Zona. In reminiscing about her daughter Zona and her quest to see Trout hang for murder, we learn about the importance of family and the role of justice in the life of a woman confined to a small backwoods farm. In James Gardner’s frank and formal retelling, we learn about his unique place as an African-American lawyer apprenticed under a notorious white practitioner. These mother and the defense attorney characters allow us to observe workings of a county legal system and examine the place of tragedy, not only in the lives of our main characters but also in the lives of those testifying at the trial and those dispensing justice in the 19th century.
If you like fiction based on true stories, this is a story handled by a master storyteller. This book can be found as an ebook and audiobook through the LIBBY app. If you find you like Sharon McCrumb, many of her works are available in print through the Augusta-Richmond County Library.