These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly


I heard about this book awhile ago from a booktuber who I follow (Books and Quills), bought an ebook copy, but only just got around to reading it. I’m definitely glad that I got to it eventually though, because it was a really good book.

The story is set in New York City in the 1890s, and follows Jo Montfort, a girl from a wealthy family. At the beginning of the novel, her father dies, supposedly accidentally while cleaning his gun. But the circumstances of his death don’t sit well with Jo and she finds some things in her father’s study that don’t add up. So she starts investigating covertly, lying to her mother about where’s she’s going during the day, and sneaking out of her house at night. The more she discovers though, the more things become less clear, and soon she’s trying to uncover some shady dealings that her father’s shipping company may or may not have been involved in.

She receives help along the way from a newspaper reporter named Eddie Gallagher, a medical student and coroner’s assistant named Oscar Rubin, and a pickpocket named Fay, all of whom lend their expertise in helping Jo to solve the mystery.

This book really is more of a mystery than I’m used to reading, and some of the scenes where Jo is talking through evidence with Eddie and Oscar feel very much of the mystery genre. There’s also a scene near the end of the book where the villain explains why he did everything that he did, which felt a little heavy-handed as well.

Another part of the book right at the end describes a court case that occurs after the villain is found out, and it was so different from the rest of the action of the story that it was slightly jarring to read. Most of the action of the book is shown rather than told, and we’re going along with Jo as she’s trying to figure everything out. But then this end part completely shifts to Jo looking back from months later to the events of this court case, and essentially telling us how everything played out. I understand why the author might have done it this way, to condense a portion of the story that might not have been quite as interesting to read, but they way it shifted suddenly from showing to telling was really strange. Does anyone know if this is a trope in mystery novels as well? I really don’t read enough mystery to be able to say for certain, but like I mentioned earlier, there were certain things that just screamed mystery to me, and I wondered if this was another.

However, despite the really stereotypical mystery elements, I really enjoyed the journey of this story. We get a lot of Jo’s struggle to fit into her upper-class world and still get what she wants out of life. She really wants to be a journalist, which I think is an interesting take on the historical fiction heroine who wants to break free from society. In a more traditional turn of events, there is also some tension between the society guy that Jo should marry and Eddie Gallagher, whom she feels a strong connection with. I really enjoy story lines like this, in which heroines don’t do quite what is expected of them for their time period. I also really like how the story ends up, but I won’t spoil it for anyone who’s interested in reading this book.

Has anyone else read this book? Let me know what you though of it in the comments.

Happy reading!


(photo courtesy of Goodreads)


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