After the violent death of an elderly woman in 1926, a young sheriff’s investigation inadvertently reveals the deeply contentious history of her Ohio county, tracing back to the Civil War.
Lily Ross, a widowed mother of two small children who was appointed to fill out her husband's term as sheriff after he died, and then won her own election, is barely holding her life together in her small Ohio town. When she is notified that a woman has died after a fall from the tunnel over the railroad tracks, she learns quickly that many in town, including her best friend Hildy Cooper's mother; her rival candidate for sheriff; and the employees of the Hollows, the asylum the woman escaped from, would all prefer the death quietly be declared accidental with no questions asked. Lily’s investigation is increasingly complicated when she finds a white robe belonging to a local Women of the Ku Klux Klan group at an abandoned house the victim passed through the night she died. These current events grow even more urgent once the victim is identified as Thea Kincaide, a relative of Hildy Cooper's, who witnessed her father’s murder as a child and testified that an escaped slave committed the crime. Montgomery’s second novel in a series about Kinship, Ohio (The Widows, 2019), and Lily Ross is a skillfully told murder mystery that features a rich array of characters and a sophisticated portrayal of a small town grappling with its own racist past and ongoing conflicted present. Secondary plots, including Hildy’s affair with a miner despite the objections of her overbearing mother and the white schoolteacher’s relationship with an African American man seeking to integrate the union of mine workers, are equally well developed and deeply connected to the larger story about the tensions in Kinship. Despite such complex plots and characters, the novel moves along briskly without sacrificing eloquence in its prose.
A satisfying historical murder mystery set apart by its compelling female cast.