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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Review

New York, 1890. Josephine Montfort is from one of New York’s most respected and wealthiest families. Like most affluent girls, Jo’s future is set: a comfortable life in a suitable marriage – but her heart can’t help yearning for more. And then her father is found dead. It was supposedly a tragic accident, although some details don’t seem to quite add up. Was it really an accident… or worse, murder? With the help of a young reporter, Eddie Gallagher, Jo is in a race against time to find the culprit. Escaping her gilded cage could be dangerous and Jo will have to face some dark characters on the gritty streets of New York. But some secrets can’t stay hidden forever, no matter how deep you bury them.

these shallow graves

I received this book as a physical review copy from Hot Key Books in exchange for an honest review. At 480-odd pages it was pleasingly weighty and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in for a lengthy read – but I got through it much quicker than I thought I would. It’s divided into 100 short chapters, each one ending on a cliffhanger that makes it irresistible to see what happens in the next short chapter. And then the next. And the next…

Welcome to New York, 1890

The setting is always a key factor for me, and I loved being transported back into the world of late-nineteenth-century New York. Donnelly paints a detailed picture of the great city, from the elegant homes and parks of its elite to the grimy slums and docksides of its underbelly. But it’s the scenes set in the darker corners of the city, the morgues, asylums and brothels, that really drive the action forward.

My kind of girl

Josephine Montfort – or just Jo – was born into New York’s privileged upper class. A wannabe journalist, she is constrained by the limitations placed on her sex in the gilded cage she inhabits. Her quest to uncover the truth about her father’s death leads her deeper into the murky side of the city. She starts out somewhat naive and idealistic, and is truly shaken and horrified when she witnesses her first bar brawl and encounters her first corpse. Yet each shocking discovery about the realities of life only strengthens her resolve. I loved that whatever she faced, she somehow managed to tough it out, even when feeling genuinely scared.

What’s life without a little romance?

At its heart this is a story about a girl taking on the world, and Jo’s journey of self-discovery took central stage. But it was nevertheless pleasing to witness her blossoming feelings for Eddie Gallagher. Every girl loves a good adventure, but of course it’s more fun if you have dashingly handsome and talented reporter at your side! The pair are from different sides of the tracks, and it was fascinating to watch how their initial preconceptions about each other were peeled away to reveal genuine mutual regard and respect.

Twists and turns

As Jo and Eddie delve into the suspicious events surrounding her father’s death they uncover yet more disturbing secrets and realize there are sinister forces at play. After about halfway I had already guessed a couple of the big reveals, but there were a few final twists that came as a surprise to me, so I was gripped right until the end.

I want more!

I don’t know if Jennifer Donnelly has any plans to write further books featuring Jo and Eddie. I hope so, as I could see them working really well as a crime-busting duo. This is the first book I have read by Donnelly and it’s given me a hankering for more historical fiction. I discovered that she has also written a series for adults set in Victorian London – The Tea Rose trilogy. It’s going straight onto my TBR!

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