Monday, January 18, 2016

Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: These Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: 27 October 2015
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia

I received this book from Hot Key Books for review.

A wealthy family. A deadly secret. A young woman with more to lose than she knows.

Josephine Montfort is from one of New York's oldest, most respected, and wealthiest families. Like most well-off girls of the Gilded Age, her future looks set - after a finishing school education, she will be favourably married off to a handsome gentleman, after which she'll want for nothing. But Jo has other dreams and desires that make her long for a very different kind of future. She wants a more meaningful and exciting life: she wants to be an investigative journalist like her heroine Nellie Bly.

But when Jo's father is found dead in his study after an alleged accident, her life becomes far more exciting than even Jo would wish. Unable to accept that her father could have been so careless, she begins to investigate his death with the help of a young reporter, Eddie Gallagher. It quickly becomes clear he was murdered, and in their race against time to discover the culprit and his motive, Jo and Eddie find themselves not only battling dark characters on the violent and gritty streets of New York, but also their growing feelings for each other.
(summary from Goodreads)

A murder mystery and illustration of historical social injustice all rolled into one!

Murder, romance, betrayal, equality - These Shallow Graves hits on some intense themes and in a way that isn't simply heart-racing or hard hitting but thought-provoking and lasting. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the novel, for the most part. It was interesting, if a little convoluted, but acted as a base for Donnelly to build her world upon. The mystery wasn't entirely predictable, which I was thankful for. I started putting the clues together a little quicker than our intrepid wannabe journalists and sleuths, but I was impressed that Donnelly didn't keep her characters utterly oblivious the whole time. That would have got irritating quick. The murder of Jo's father, the questions of who did it and why, are definitely a huge focus of These Shallow Graves, but the heart of the story is the commentary of the social inequality of the time period. Not only that between the rich and the poor, but between males and females. Donnelly offers a stark comparison between Jo's world and that of Eddie's and Fay's. It's not a pretty picture. What struck me though was the commonalities between Jo and Fay, despite their very, very different upbringings and lives. The oppression of women, by the rules of society, hurt my heart to read. It's something we should remember, always. 

Jo made for a contradictory main character. She was at once courageous and quick thinking, and reckless and frustratingly naive. It suited the times and Jo's standing in society though. So while here and there she really annoyed me, I admired her determination and found her choices inspiring. Eddie was a great match for Jo, long suffering and as determined. While I liked their romance, it didn't feel especially deep to me. A bit quick. But I appreciated the hopeful openness of it at the end. I loved Fay best. Forthright and able, she was in the worst kind of situation and while hardened by it, I loved her heart. She cared for Eddie and her friendship with Jo was perfect. Fay's story, and thus Eleanor's, was heartbreaking and it was hard to read about, knowing that that reality was common. It really is what makes this book worth reading, Donnelly's portrayal of the unfair and despairing nature of social inequality. Even Oscar, a medical examiner learning the science of forensics experiences it, having to sit back and watch the truth covered up because of social standing. It was terrible and infuriating. There's lessons here that offer These Shallow Graves an honesty.

Donnelly's These Shallow Graves is a read that is entertaining and enlightening.



  1. I wanted to enjoy this more than I did, but it was still entertaining. I loved the historical aspect of it though. Great review!

    1. Thank you, Angelique! I too hoped I'd love it a lot more, but alas. It was still a good read though. :-)

  2. Sounds interesting. I will have to check it out.