Lead Review

  • Book: Little Deaths
  • Location: Queens
  • Author: Emma Flint

Review Author: tripfiction

Location

Content

Slow-burning thriller set in QUEENS, New York

Lists of up-coming books to watch our for in 2017 have been buzzing about Little Deaths, so I was keen to see if the book lives up to the hype. It does, it is a fascinating debut.

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The setting for this novel is Queens, New York in the mid 1960s. It is July, hot and sweltering, the locals are edgy. The murder of two young children, Frankie Junior and Cindy, stirs the community into a frenzy.

Ruth – mother to the two murdered children – has separated from her husband, Frank, and has been struggling to make ends meet. The two parents are in the middle of a custody battle, tempers are fraught. She also has a desperate need to be loved and nurtured, and therefore actively seeks the attentions of men to counter the deep loneliness and disconnectedness that blights her life. She is not purely a social drinker, but someone who will dribble vodka into her morning coffee to stave off the profound emptiness.

As investigations into the murder of her two young children progress, rookie reporter Pete Wonicke is drawn to the story like a moth to a light, he is enthralled by the woman who increasingly becomes the main suspect. So much so that he puts his job on the line….

In some ways this is a very prescient story for today – a woman who is seen to have loose morals is vilified by those around her, mainly by the men but sadly also by some of the women. No-one really bothers to look at the bigger picture of her life, her upbringing, and social circumstance. She is deemed “.. the very picture of a scandalous woman“. As the case against her builds, Pete becomes more and more convinced of her innocence. Whilst all the focus is on her – her lifestyle, her alcohol consumption, her natty and revealing dress style, is the real perpetrator of these crimes being overlooked? She is “judged and pronounced guilty in the beauty parlours, the backyards, and the kitchens of Queens“.

Ruth is a woman who hides her inner identity, her feelings are rarely on show for public consumption. She tries to protect herself whilst she is being pitilessly demonised by the police, and because of her manner, she garners little support. The guilt she feels – for all kinds of things – eats away at her. The author reinforces Ruth’s loathing of her own body: she finds it malodorous and despicable (probably too many descriptions of rank armpits to be honest). She keeps herself to herself and no-one really bothers to see the person underneath. She is a shameless woman who deserves all that is coming to her, it seems. Would her situation be so very different in today’s world? Now, that is a really frightening thought….

I wasn’t all together sure about the ending, but in a way it is the narrative, the slow-burn, the build-up, the quality of the dialogue and writing that makes this an excellent debut. A little too much emphasis on Ruth’s manner, clothes and make-up, but that is a minor quibble. The story is inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, whose two children went missing from their Queens apartment in 1965.

The location, oppressive and intense in the heat of July, serves as an excellent backdrop to the unfolding story. Kissena Park in Queens features, but it is the anonymous streets, the buildings and cafes that make the time and place feel very colourful and real.

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