Montgomery's debut novel introduces Lily Ross, a sheriff’s widow in 1920s Appalachian Ohio who takes on her husband Daniel’s work in order to solve his murder, and Marvena, Daniel’s childhood sweetheart, who helps Lily while also organizing mineworkers.
Marvena shows up at Lily’s house on the day of Daniel’s funeral, looking for Daniel to ask if he’s learned anything about her missing daughter, Eula, or her brother Tom, a miner who's been jailed recently for his union talk. The women have more than Daniel in common: Marvena’s common-law husband, John, a veteran of the real-life Battle for Blair Mountain mineworkers’ uprising, and Lily’s father, the town grocer, died together trying to rescue trapped miners six months earlier. Bonded by their common losses, their determination to learn what happened to Daniel, and their concern for better working conditions for miners, Lily and Marvena become allies. Montgomery portrays their class differences—Lily grew up in a prosperous family, Marvena has had a hardscrabble life—while convincing readers that the two women’s strong wills and shared tragedies are grounds for their alliance. The mysteries of Daniel’s murder and Eula’s disappearance lead to an unexpected outcome and a surprising murderer. As the book draws to a close, Lily, who was appointed sheriff by men who thought she’d cause them no trouble, is running for the position in her own right, perhaps setting the stage for further installments. Montgomery effectively provides backstory through her characters’ memories, but some of those passages are longer than necessary. Occasional interruptions to explain things like how to make sorghum are distracting, and many of the minor characters are not well fleshed-out. However, these are small problems in an otherwise engaging debut. An extensive Author's Note provides insight into the women and historical events that inspired Montgomery.
Vivid historical details, an intriguing mystery, and strong female characters.