The Unquiet Grave: A Novel (Hardcover)
From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes a finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.
Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P. D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Fresh out of medical school, Dr. Boozer is eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, and encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. Gardner's most memorable case was the one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.
Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains of West Virginia. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, the handsome blacksmith who has recently come to Greenbrier County. After weeks of silence from the newlyweds, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that Zona has died from a fall, attributed to a recent illness. Mary Jane is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.
The Greenbrier Ghost is renowned in American folklore, but Sharyn McCrumb is the first author to look beneath the legend to unearth the facts. Using a century of genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb reveals new information about the story and brings to life the personalities in the trial: the prosecutor, a former Confederate cavalryman; the defense attorney, a pro-Union bridgeburner, who nevertheless had owned slaves; and the mother of the murdered woman, who doggedly sticks to her ghost story—all seen through the eyes of a young black lawyer on the cusp of a new century, with his own tragedies yet to come.
With its unique blend of masterful research and mesmerizing folklore, illuminating the story’s fascinating and complex characters, The Unquiet Grave confirms Sharyn McCrumb’s place among the finest Southern writers at work today.
About the Author
Sharyn McCrumb is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Ballad novels. She has received numerous honors for her work, including the Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Southern Literature, the AWA Book of the Year, and Notable Books in both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. She was also named a Virginia Woman of History for Achievement in Literature. She lives and writes in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, fewer than one hundred miles from where her family settled in 1790.
“McCrumb hears voices from the grave and kindly passes their messages along.”
— New York Times Book Review
"In this compelling story, McCrumb continues to relate the dynamic tales of Appalachia and its people."
— Library Journal
“McCrumb has a real knack for crafting full-bodied characters and using folklore to construct compelling plots.”
"Appalachia is an area steeped in dark history, mystery, and ghost stories as old as the hills. Sharyn McCrumb weaves her literary magic once more with the 1897 haunting tale of a young girl named Zona and the people who fought for her spirit’s justice. The Unquiet Grave, while based on historical fact and record, is woven with legend and carefully handcrafted as only McCrumb can accomplish. The Greenbrier Ghost has once again risen to claim its rightful place among America’s best ghost stories and the most rare—the ones that are actually true."
— Sherri Brake, author of The Haunted History of the West Virginia Penitentiary
“Sharyn McCrumb understands the South, and her understanding and storytelling ability are evident in every page of this well-crafted novel.”
— Historical Novel Society
“Based on one of the most incredible ghost stories in American folklore, The Unquiet Grave is a fascinating historical fiction novel you won't be able to put down.”
“McCrumb has a distinctive gift for creating fascinating, complex characters in her novels, as well as remarkable skill for illustrating the mountain folklore of Southern Appalachia.”
— News Tribune
“McCrumb has provided a masterful account of a mother’s fight for justice for her murdered daughter. Once again, she demonstrated why she’s looked on as one of the South’s finest writers.”
— Charleston Gazette-Mail
“Touching on mental illness, race and superstition, The Unquiet Grave is not only an informative read, but one that never loses sight of its story—a chilly retelling of an Appalachian legend finely resurrected under McCrumb’s pen.”
— Mountain Times