Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Little Deaths

Summary: It's 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone--a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress--wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy's body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.'s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth.

As police investigate the murders, the detritus of Ruth's life is exposed. Seen through the eyes of the cops, the empty bourbon bottles and provocative clothing which litter her apartment, the piles of letters from countless men and Ruth's little black book of phone numbers, make her a drunk, a loose woman--and therefore a bad mother. The lead detective, a strict Catholic who believes women belong in the home, leaps to the obvious conclusion: facing divorce and a custody battle, Malone took her children's lives.

Pete Wonicke is a rookie tabloid reporter who finagles an assignment to cover the murders. Determined to make his name in the paper, he begins digging into the case. Pete's interest in the story develops into an obsession with Ruth, and he comes to believe there's something more to the woman whom prosecutors, the press, and the public have painted as a promiscuous femme fatale. Did Ruth Malone violently kill her own children, is she a victim of circumstance--or is there something more sinister at play?

Inspired by a true story, Little Deaths, like celebrated novels by Sarah Waters and Megan Abbott, is compelling literary crime fiction that explores the capacity for good and evil in us all. -- Hachette

I have to say that I am still giddy about the books I came home with from this year's SIBA. So many good ones. But one that I was especially excited about is LITTLE DEATHS by Emma Flint. This book has been garnering tremendous reviews... and I can totally see why. I loved this book!

LITTLE DEATHS takes place in 1965 in Queens, New York, when Ruth Malone wakes up and discovers that her two young children are missing. Later in the day, her daughter's body is found strangled and left in an empty lot close to her home. A week and a half later, her son's body is found. I recently found out that this story is based on a real-life one -- how cool is that?

As the police begin their investigation, all signs point to Ruth as the prime suspect. Ruth is a facing a divorce and subsequent custody battle, and her behavior has been rather odd. She seems to be more worried about her appearance than the deaths of her kids. The lead detective on the case discovers a variety of evidence that doesn't shed a positive light on Ruth -- she drinks, goes to bars, brings home different men, etc.; and he immediately jumps to the conclusion that she murdered her kids.

In the meantime, Pete Wonicke is a young reporter who is assigned to cover the murders after some clever tricks. He wants to prove himself to the paper's editor, and he believes that this case just might do that. However, he becomes quite entranced with Ruth (almost obsessed) and believes that she's innocent of the crimes. While the police are interested in putting Ruth away, Pete is trying to learn more about this enigmatic woman and possibly prove her innocence.

I loved LITTLE DEATHS... absolutely loved it. It's a well written mystery with compelling characters, and I believe it challenges readers to really think about people and our perceptions of them. I appreciated both the setting and the time period of the story, and I think Ms. Flint did a remarkable job in bringing the characters to life.

Obviously, Ruth was an interesting character and a tough nut to crack. I wasn't quite sure how to take her -- she definitely wasn't the typical grieving mother; and I found myself questioning her motives as well as her innocence. However, I think many of the other characters were equalling compelling. The old-fashioned police inspector was a great character as well as Pete, the young reporter. In addition, I found Ruth's grieving ex-husband to be rather intriguing.

I also thought the mystery behind the deaths of Ruth's children was a good one. If I'm being entirely honest, I thought I figured out what happened, but I wasn't entirely sure until it was revealed. However, the real beauty of this novel wasn't in the whodunnit aspect. Rather is was in how the story was told. LITTLE DEATHS was a literary mystery and an extremely good one at that. I loved the way Ms. Flint evoked the feel of the setting as well as the humanity of the characters.

Furthermore, I loved how this book make me think... and I suspect I'm not alone. As a result, I definitely recommend LITTLE DEATHS for book clubs. There are some major themes at work here including first impressions, judging individuals based on appearances, sexism, rumors, and morals. But this novel also explored some pretty heavy issues about a woman who was fighting to be independent in a time and place when her behavior was frowned upon.

Overall, I think LITTLE DEATHS is a wonderful example of great literary fiction that also happens to be a pretty good mystery. Highly recommended!

I received a copy of this novel at this year's SIBA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I picked that up at SIBA too - it sounds like I need to pull it out and read it ASAP!

Kay said...

I like the sound of this one and will look for it. Interesting that it's based on an actual case.

Unknown said...

i definitely want to get a copy of this book.