These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Rating: 5 stars
Version: Advanced Reader Copy
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.
So if you're like me, trying to predict what would happen at the end of every book you read, let me just say - this is not one of those predictable books.
Josephine Montfort grows up surrounded by 'old money', aka families who made their wealth through centuries of work and alliances with the best of the best. This is also the world where women are merely trading pieces who are expected to live a quiet life of luxury without much fuss, and give birth to continue the family name. Now when we first meet Jo, she's not really questioning her life (at least enough to leave such luxury), but the first seeds of rebellion are planted as she is the editor of the school's newspaper.
She begins to question her life more when she starts to delve deeper into the mysteries of her father's demise. We see her transition from a girl so sure of the pureness and innocence of high class society and her family to one opening her eyes to how terrible reality really is. Jo even begins to learn the workings of the 'common class' and picks up useful skills such as pickpocketing from her new friend Fay.
Her relationship with Eddie Gallagher is more complex than you'd expect, too. While they do rush into their romance at first, she still retreats back into the comfort of the upper class, and regrets her decisions. As a female heroine of YA, Jo grows and develops into a strong character, something I have been unable to find in the books I've been reading recently. Unlike those heroines who constantly ogle the 'dark, masculine mysterious man', she's focused on the task at hand.
Her and Eddie also learn from their mistakes of rushing their relationship, diverging from typical YA 'love at first sight' romances. While the romance is constant throughout the book, it isn't a reminder each chapter when there's a mystery to solve!
And many of the characters, from pickpocket Fay to med student Oscar, are wonderful and unique, coming from all sorts of society. The science behind the murders, or the forensic science, is great to read about, coming from someone who took a class on the topic. You can even sympathize with the villains (or at least, who you are lead to believe are the villains). They're all believable and realistic.
Donnelly crafts a great story, fully immersing us in the world of NYC 1890. You can almost picture the Van Houten docks or the brothels of lower Manhattan. The history of the characters is in-depth, as well. Plotwise? I kept on reading to see what would happen next, and was blown away by the result. You wouldn't believe the lengths Jo would go to to solve the mystery. And the true murderer - while some may say he was predictable, his motives clearly were not.
In a classic case of 'whodunnit', I'm kept constantly on my toes, and I honestly wish there were more books like this out there. Perfect for mystery lovers and history lovers alike.