Release Date: October 27, 2015
Synopsis: Set in gilded age New York, “These Shallow Graves” follow 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 o 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.
Jennifer Donnelly has written some pretty impressive historical fiction for both YAs and adults, and I’m happy to say that “These Shallow Graves” will join her other successes.
One of the things I love about this author is how well she researches whatever time period her story is set in. In this book I was immediately swept into 19th century New York. She unveils not only how the upper class live, but the horrific conditions that the impoverished are forced to survive. Her depictions are so incredibly detailed that you feel as though you’re there as an unseen observer.
Jo is a richly drawn character. No mere society miss, she chafes at the restrictions her family puts on her. She’s extremely intelligent and immediately knows that there’s something wrong with the official account of her father’s death. She’s determined to find out what really happened and does whatever it takes to discover the truth, even when her investigation drags up some long buried family secrets and puts her own life in danger. Once she teams up with Eddie, the young reporter, their questions lead them to some pretty unsavory and dangerous parts of the city, yet she never hesitates to do whatever it takes to unravel the conspiracy that is behind her father’s death. At the same time, she wrestles with doing what is right, and her loyalties and obligations to her family. In the end it’s not an easy path she chooses, yet it’s the right one.
Eddie is the perfect foil for Jo. Another reviewer mentioned that it would have been nice to see some of the story told from Eddie’s POV, instead of the single one of Jo’s, and I have to concur. Eddie has fought his way out of a squalid existence and is determined to become a well-respected reporter. He’s such an interesting character that I think it would have added another layer to the story. You still get a great sense of who he is and what he can possibly accomplish.
Eddie attempts to balance his ambitions with his growing feelings toward Jo, which makes their relationship a bit rocky at times. Theirs is an interesting romance that never gets in the way of the mystery that is the heart of the story. When you factor in Jo’s ties to high society, well let’s just say the story doesn’t end with your stereotypical happily ever after. But that’s okay. The way Jennifer Donnelly ends the story, is realistic and perfectly satisfying. It also leaves the option of the book being a standalone novel or being the beginning of a new series.
These Shallow Graves isn’t a thrill ride that will leave you breathless. Instead, it’s a beautifully detailed mystery with richly drawn characters, and enough twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. Although it’s written for teens, if you enjoy historical mysteries by authors like Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander, you’ll definitely want to try this.