Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves
By Jennifer Donnelly
Published: October 27, 2015

From Jennifer Donnelly, the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of A Northern Light and Revolution, comes a mystery about dark secrets, dirty truths, and the lengths to which people will go for love and revenge. For fans of Elizabeth George and Libba Bray, These Shallow Graves is the story of how much a young woman is willing to risk and lose in order to find the truth.

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.

My review:

Jo is not unlike Josephine March, another more well known literary Jo who also wanted to write but for Jo Montfort her privileged background makes achieving her dreams even harder. Jo has been working on her school paper and trying to get more serious articles published but it only gets her in trouble. Then her life comes crashing down around her when she receives news that her father has died. The fishy circumstances of his death make Jo start to question what happened especially after a trip to his newspaper office where she overhears some reporters saying it was suicide. That doesn't really sound like her dad either but now Jo has to find out the truth. How did her dad really die? Was he murdered?

Jo is reluctantly aided in her search by Eddie Gallagher. Eddie doesn't have the highest opinion of people like Jo but at the same time he also doesn't want her to get hurt if she investigates on her own so he agrees to help her do some digging. This leads them both into deeper trouble than they could have imagined.

Jo reminded me of Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey, someone from a privileged background who wanted to help people and do more with her life than host dinner parties for her husband and pay calls. While Jo is bright and shows a good deal of courage and determination she is also a little naive. This was frustrating but understandable given the sheltered way she grew up. It also leads to some humorous moments as Jo is mistaken for a lady of the evening and given a job offer by a madam (she thinks someone is just being nice to her and offering her help). Jo inadvertently puts herself in danger time and time again because she doesn't understand the way the world works but fortunately for her, people like Eddie and the pickpocket Fairy Fay are looking out for her. I liked how Jo grew and let her views expand.

These Shallow Graves is a historical mystery that I found entertaining. Although the mystery was pretty easy to figure out (the identity of the killer seemed obvious to me), the cast of characters kept my interest and I wanted to know why Jo's dad was killed. I also enjoyed the setting and the way the author incorporated early forensic science into the story. The romance could have been better developed but Eddie was likable as a hero and for me the romance wasn't the point of the story. I think readers who like historical mysteries like Y.S. Lee's Agency series or even historical fiction set in the Gilded Age would enjoy this novel. I certainly wouldn't mind if the author decided to continue Jo's adventures with another book.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley


  1. Great review, Christina! I felt the same way. I was able to predict the killer right away, but still enjoyed the story. I loved the time period! You are so right in your comparison between Lady Sybil and similar! I definitely prefer Donnelly's historical fiction over her fantasy/mermaid series that is for sure. Great review!

  2. New to me book. Will be looking out for this one.

  3. nice balanced review, I was hesitant about this one but after reading your review I think I'd enjoy it and Lady Sybil was one of my favourite characters at Downton ....


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