October 27, 2015
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Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.
Josephine Montfort is a character I love. She is a complicated, complex and well written character. As a young woman in 1890, Jo knows the future waiting for her: marriage and babies.
One of the things I liked most about Jo - and, really, about These Shallow Graves overall - was that she was not your typical female character in a historical novel displeased with the status quo.
She knows she is not as ready as most of her peers for life to be all about babies, "...Parties and outings. Wallpaper. China patters. And upholstery." (earc 21%) At the same time, she isn't sure she doesn't want the expected marriage and children to be some part of her future. Not all, but maybe some.
I enjoyed that her character was not deciding to forgo all of the societal expectations. Her thoughts, uncertainties and feelings about what was expected of her, what she wanted fro life and whether the two could meet somewhere in the middle made her a very real character. That question over a girl - or woman's - place in society paired very well with the mystery.
It is a smaller thing, but something I thought took Jo and the story farther from the expected: Jo was not best friends with her maid. They conspired at times, they conversed but were not BFFs. While that can work, I enjoyed that it didn't happen here. Jo paid Katie, she bribed her, even. It felt true to the characters and who and how they were.
The investigation provides insight for both the readers and Jo into parts (and ways) of life other than those lived by Jo's family's aristocratic circle. We see how those with money, those without, women, the well-to-do, the downtrodden, criminals and more viewed each other and others, and how they were seen.
It is an education for Jo and readers, alike.
Though some parts of the mystery Jo is trying to solve seem easy to guess or figure out, it is how everything unravels that will keep you turning the pages. Not only are the 'how's and 'why's full of twists and turns, Jo's journey to those clues is, as well. Perilous, dangerous twists and turns.
These Shallow Graves takes full advantage of when it is set, using the time period, societal expectations and more to impact its main characters personal thoughts, decisions and dilemmas along with how she is and is not able to investigate the mystery.
digital review copy received from the publisher, via NetGalley