“Be careful how deep you bury the past.”
With these eight words printed at the top of the cover of “These Shallow Graves,” the reader knows that they are going to be in for an interesting ride.
“These Shallow Graves” is a historic mystery novel written by Jennifer Donnelly and published in 2015. Some of Donnelly’s other novels include “A Northern Light,” “Revolution” and most recently “Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book.”
“These Shallow Graves” takes place in 1890 and centers around the main character Josephine Montfort, a 17-year-old New York socialite who wants nothing more than to be a reporter. Her dreams come crashing to a halt when she gets the news that her father, Charles Montfort, died unexpectedly. Returning home, Jo is told that her father’s gun had accidentally gone off, killing him.
A few days later, Jo visits “The Standard,” a newspaper that her father’s company owns. There, she meets reporter Eddie Gallagher and she learns that her father had killed himself. Jo then requests that Eddie help her find out the reason why her father took his life. Upon visiting the morgue, Jo and Eddie learn that Charles Montfort had not committed suicide. He was murdered.
Together, Jo and Eddie search all over New York City for the identity of her father’s killer all the while meeting interesting characters along the way. Some of these characters include a thief named Fairy Fay; The Tailor, a man who runs a child pickpocketing ring; and Oscar Rubin, an autopsy attendant who practices a new science deemed “forensic science.”
Amid all of the running around New York in chase of a killer, Jo also struggles to find out where she fits in life. Does she belong in the hustle and bustle of New York City, chasing down as many stories as she please? Or does she belong in her old life of tea parties and dances, where a girl can be seen but not heard?
Donnelly tells a tale that is rich with details and is historically accurate. Donnelly depicts the social class issues as well as the gender roles of the late 1890s into her mystery novel. She also portrays her characters realistically so that the reader will be left with the impression that the characters existed at some point in real life.
With chapters that are short and fast-paced, any reader will be able to follow Jo and Eddie on their journey as they search for Charles Montfort’s killer, a journey that will have many twists and turns, leaving Jo, Eddie and the reader in suspense until the very end.