Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Unquiet Grave

Many folks in southwestern Virginia and West Virginia know the story of Zona Heaster Shue, whose ghost appeared to her mother and told how her husband Trout had killed her. A sign in Greenbrier County, WV, summarizes what happened.



Plus numerous online sites give information about this bizarre murder trial, such as Little Bits of History Along U.S. Roadways, Appalachian History, and Prairie Ghosts to list a few. 

With so much documentation of what happened, what more is there to tell of Zona's sad story? Turns out, there's quite a bit. In her latest novel, The Unquiet Grave, Sharyn McCrumb reveals more about the story and the people who were involved.


While The Unquiet Grave is a novel, thanks to McCrumb's meticulous historical research, it  reads like non-fiction. McCrumb conveys the story through two viewpoints: Zona's mother (Mary Jane Heaster) tells her side as a first person narrator, and a third person limited narrator tells the story of James P. D. Gardner, an African-American lawyer and one of Trout Shue's defense attorneys.

The story alternates between Gardner's story in 1930 Larkin, West Virginia, and Mrs. Heaster's  account of Zona and her ill-fated marriage in Greenbrier County three decades earlier. Confined to an insane asylum because of his suicide attempt, Gardner tells the story of his most memorable case to one of the doctors, who thinks having Gardner talk about his experiences will help him recover. At the time of Zona's death, Gardner was a young man working in the law office of a former pro-Union slaveowner. Until the murder trial in 1898, he had done mostly routine work.

Mrs. Heaster's story about her only daughter portrays Zona as a young woman who is too pretty for her own good and who does what she pleases. When Zona is impregnated by a local ne'er-do-well she doesn't want to marry even if he wanted to marry her, Mrs.Heaster makes arrangements for the baby to be given to an older couple back in the mountains. Free of the obligation to raising a child, Zona goes to Richlands to visit her cousins. There she meets a handsome young blacksmith, new in town, and they are instantly smitten with each other. In a few weeks they marry. Mrs. Heaster is suspicious of Trout Shue from the first time she meets him.

A few months after her wedding, Zona is dead—supposedly from a broken neck suffered in a fall down the steps—and her mother is suspicious because of Trout's odd behavior at the funeral. A month later, Mrs. Heaster reports to the county prosecutor that her daughter appeared to her as a ghost and told her how Shue had murdered her. Zona's body is exhumed and examined, and it turns out that her broken neck was not from the fall after all. Shue is arrested for his wife's murder.

Shue's defense attorney assigns his young assistant, Mr. Gardner, with the job of preparing a defense. While Gardner has a long legal career, Trout Shue's trial is the case that stands out the most—and the case he discusses with the young Dr. Boozer at the asylum. After all, it's the only known murder case where a ghost provided incriminating evidence.

I won't give away anything else that happens in this book, except to note there are some interesting twists and turns. Read more about this new book here.

The title, The Unquiet Grave, is apt. Both Gardner and Zona are connected by "unquiet" graves. Zora tells the story of her death after she's been buried for a month; while still alive, Gardner is "buried" in an insane asylum until he tells his story.

The Unquiet Grave is Sharyn MCrumb at her best—meticulous research, interesting characters, and a compelling story! I read the review copy in two days (and nights)—it was so good I didn't want to put it down.

The Unquiet Grave debuts on September 10, 2017, in Greenbrier county, WV. A list of other places and times she'll be promoting this book are here.


While The Unquiet Grave won't be available until September, you can pre-order a copy from Amazon.
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Note: I mentioned this book in a previous blog-post:  "The Greenbrier Ghost."

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