~ About the Book ~
Kinship, Ohio, 1924: When Lily Ross learns that her husband, Daniel Ross, the town’s widely respected sheriff, is killed while transporting a prisoner, she is devastated and vows to avenge his death.
Hours after his funeral, a stranger appears at her door. Marvena Whitcomb, a coal miner’s widow, is unaware that Daniel has died, and begs to speak with him about her missing daughter.
From miles away but worlds apart, Lily and Marvena’s lives collide as they realize that Daniel was not the man that either of them believed him to be―and that his murder is far more complex than either of them could have imagined.
Inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff, this is a powerful debut about two women’s search for justice as they take on the corruption at the heart of their community.
Genre: Historical Fiction (General Market)
Release date: 8 January 2019
Publisher: Minotaur Books
~ Excerpt ~
Martin smiles gently. “No, Lily, we’re not here to boot you out. We’re here to ask you if you’d consider being the acting sheriff.”
As Lily gasps, Martin smiles gently. “It’s not a position, with the demands of my business, that I can fill, and Fiona―” He glances down. “Well.” He looks back up. “She told me about your visit earlier this morning. So we thought if you were interested―well, we presumed to bring the paperwork. If we complete it this afternoon, I can take it over to the judge. And you can be sworn in tomorrow afternoon.”
Tomorrow? Lily can’t breathe or move, as if the air freezes around her, and she with it.
Tanner misinterprets her hesitancy. “Now, we know it’s a most unusual position for a woman, but with these modern times and all―well, my little woman just can’t stop reminding me of her right to vote and the power of the women’s temperance league!” His chuckle fades at Lily’s stiff silence. He blows his bulbous red nose into a handkerchief and adds, “It would just be until November, until the election. And Martin will stay your deputy―”
“If you’ll have me―” Martin says.
“Course she will. And, Lily, we’d still want you to be jail mistress. So you’d be paid for that, same as always, and small bonus for the title of sheriff. But don’t worry. The Pinkertons can handle most trouble with miners. They have their own means.” Tanner looks pleased at the thought of those cruel means. “You won’t even have to transport prisoners from Rossville’s holding cell to the jailhouse!” Tanner grins as if being sheriff is no real challenge, so of course even a woman could do it―in title only, of course.
Lily clears her throat. “How nice. Specially since while transporting a prisoner, my husband was shot.”
As Lily turns over in her mind what’s being offered, she looks at Tanner Riley, his thin, barely patient, patronizing smile. So much easier this way than electing a new sheriff, one who might make it a mission to ask questions and unearth the truth. One who might not support the Pinkertons the way Tanner would like. A bonus: saving money by not paying her as they would a proper male sheriff.
But they are offering her something else. They’ve underestimated her, as she finds men so often do with women. The’re offering her access as sheriff to go places, to ask questions.
“What a kindly offer. I’d be glad to accept,” she says.
She waits until they leave, then goes back inside the jailhouse. On the front of the unused notebook, she writes her name. “Lily Ross.” Below that, “March 29, 1925.” She hesitates just a moment, then adds next to her name: “―Sheriff.”
~ Review ~
Here’s something fresh for historical mystery lovers: a series set in a 1920s mining town in Ohio during prohibition (can’t you just hear the roar of potential stories!), featuring a female sheriff. And those men who thought having a female sheriff meant having a puppet whose strings they could pull at will had better think again!
It took me a little while to settle into this novel, in large part because it is written in the third person present tense. (eg. Lily sweeps the jail cell for the next prisoner, set to arrive in a few hours.) I find this a distracting tense to read in, particularly when it frequently shifts into the past tense when referring to things that happened in the past. I know that actually sounds logical, but for some reason the switch back to present tense always throws me. There’s also the distance this narrative style creates between the reader and the character, inserting an invisible narrator. It’s just not my favourite mode of storytelling.
That said, this was a solid debut. The story is told alternately from Lily’s (the sheriff) and Marvena’s (a woman whose common-law husband recently lost his life in the mines) points-of-view—two women who are strong because they have to be to survive. They’re no strangers to heartache either prior to or during this story, but they confront that heartache head on and keep moving forward.
The historical setting is captured well, as are the politics of this small town, where a very few hold the balance of power and are quite happy to exploit the workers who have no choice but to accept their lot if they are to put food on their tables. Thus, this is not just the story of a woman determined to find out the truth of what happened to her husband; it’s a story of rural community life at a time when the rumblings beneath the socioeconomic landscape were escalating to breaking point.
But what has stuck with me most was the decision these women had to make once the truth was revealed: seek vengeance, or put their personal injury aside and seek what is best for their community? I’ll be interested to see where this series goes from here.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
~ Giveaway ~
The publisher has kindly offered to give a copy of The Widows to one lucky reader. Just comment on my blog and let me know what interests you most about this story, and then go to rafflecopter to enter: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/bd61d44b40/?
~ About the Author ~
JESS MONTGOMERY is the author of the Kinship Historical Mystery series, focusing on a 1920s female sheriff in Appalachia.
Under Jess’s given name, she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News. Her first novel in the Kinship Historical Mystery series, THE WIDOWS, garnered awards even before publication: Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District (MCAD) Artist Opportunity Grant (2018); Individual Excellence Award (2016) in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council; John E. Nance Writer in Residence at Thurber House (Columbus, Ohio) in 2014.