Monday, October 26, 2015

These Shallow Graves, by Jennifer Donnelly: when good girls go jouralist

These Shallow Graves
Jennifer Donnelly
Delacorte, 2015
NetGalley advance digital copy

In picking this book up, I will admit to hoping it would be a book with a mix of costume drama, drama, some historically inappropriate heat, a smidge of feminsim, smoldering gazes, more costumes, and a dramatic plot twist or fifteen.  Basically, I was hoping for the Luxe meets House of Mirth meets Newsies meets sexy gilded age crime thriller murder fun times.  Or something like that.  I mean, doesn’t the publisher summary lead you to believe this?

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly. Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun. The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop. The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.  (Random House summary on NetGalley)

DUM DEE DUM DUM DUMMMMMM.  (Mathnet theme music, anyone?)

I probbbbably read toooo much into this, led by my hope for a delightfully costumed scandal novel I could rip through.   I’ll cop to believing (or hoping) this would be darker, more serious, and more mature, so I was a bit perturbed to discover the treacle in my treacle tart a bit sweeter and perhaps corn syrupy than I'd hoped for.  However, I when I got around to rearranging my expectations, I found that  I was enjoying myself enjoying this turn of the century book on society, news, and unexpectedly, forensic science. Yes, forensic science. Which was actually a pleasant albeit gross surprise. was definitely not totally historically accurate on that count, nor were the dialogue or actions of the primary characters.  This is a really fun, exciting, feminist story - perhaps a bit more than would have been realistic, but feminist, nonetheless.  The writing, dialogue and pace can be choppy, and at times the historian inside was rolling her eyes at those points, but overall, it's a really fun story, with likable characters, interesting social commentary, and lots of smoldering intrigue. In fact, weirdly, I’d actually rate the Luxe, despite the obvious wayyy over the top sexytimes as slightly more historically appropriate.  But whatever.  If you want a smutty costume drama book, read the Luxe.  Good for fans of Newsies, or those still recovering from the devastation of the House of Mirth who hoped against logic it would end differently!  I’m wondering if some recently published titles (like Sarah Donati’s The Gilded Hour) might scratch the itch I was looking to scratch when I picked this one in August!

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