Jennifer Donnelly, author of Revolution and A Northern Light has given us another engrossing history lesson in These Shallow Graves. The rich and privileged Josephine Montfort is called into the headmistress’s office of her elite boarding school, Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies, only to find her close family friend, Abraham Aldrich, waiting for her with the sad news that her father, Charles, has died. It was deemed an accidental death–the gun Charles was cleaning went off accidentally.
When Jo goes to bestow a bequest to the editor of the Standard, a newspaper Montfort owned, she overhears a reporter, Eddie Gallagher, stating that the death was not accidental. It was actually suicide. Jo, an aspiring reporter herself, cannot believe what she has heard and confronts her uncle, Phillip Montfort (Charles’ brother) who, indeed, confirms the story after Jo will not let up.
Jo feels compelled to find out what would prompt her father to kill himself and enlists Eddie’s aid. Being the career minded, aggressive reporter that he is, Eddie agrees and introduces Jo to the world of 1890s New York that no proper lady should experience, that of pickpockets, pimps, paupers and more.
Readers are apprised of life in Manhattan during the late 1800s, the wide divide between the haves and have nots, children left on orphanage doorsteps because there are too many other siblings to take care of, unscrupulous men who take in these orphans, train them to rob and steal in payment for their care, madams and prostitutes and more.
Jo’s actions, unlike those of teenagers of her station in life, goes against all expectations of her grandmother, uncle and mother; so much so that it may ruin the chances of a marriage proposal from the highly desirable Bram Aldrich.
These Shallow Graves is a most enjoyable read!
I also must recommend Donnelly’s other books, Revolution and A Northern Light, especially Revolution. To borrow my own words, “Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Historical fiction (also A Northern Light by Ms. Donnelly) combined with some time travel transports Andi Alpers from her 21st century Brooklyn home to the middle of the French Revolution. Wonderfully written and totally engrossing.”