These Shallow Graves is historical fiction, a murder mystery set in guilded age Manhattan, and it follows the story of a very privileged young woman named Jo Montfort. Born into an aristocratic New York family, Jo’s whole life is set out for her. She’s going to marry and marry well. She’s going to raise children, pretty much the only acceptable “work” for women of her background at that time. But Jo has a secret dream: she really wants to be a writer like her heroine Nellie Bly. She wants to write about the underprivileged and she is, of course, discouraged from doing this.
The book starts out with Jo at boarding school in Connecticut. She’s putting together the school’s newspaper when suddenly she’s surprised by a visit from her two oldest and dearest friends, Bram and Abby. They’ve come to break some terrible news—Jo’s father has died. He shot himself accidentally while cleaning a revolver. Stunned and shocked, Jo can’t believe it. But when Jo overhears a conversation that alleges his death was not accidental after all, her suspicions are confirmed.
What theme song you would select for These Shallow Graves?
The theme song would be “Bethena” by Scott Joplin. It’s instrumental and it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It very much to me describes, musically, the 1890s of New York.
Which one of the characters do you most closely relate to?
I relate very closely to the main character, Jo Montfort. My first job out of school, one of them, was working as a general assignment reporter for a very scrappy, two-fisted, upstate New York daily paper. It was an amazing finishing school. I learned how to write and to write fast and to not mess around… to sit down and start working and the muse will come. So the book’s a little bit of a love song to that life of a journalist. I also, strangely, relate closely to one of the secondary characters, Oscar Rubin. He’s a young medical student who moonlights in the coroner’s office and he is grossed out by nothing. He loves everything—if something is really rotten and yucky and smelly he loves it and I share that with him. I love eerie, spooky, gross things, so Oscar and I have a big bond.
Fans of _____ would love my book.
I think and hope, if I’m not being too presumptuous here, fans of The Alienist would love my book. That was one of my favorite books when it came out, I think it was about 20 years ago. It’s by Caleb Carr and it’s the story of a serial killer on the loose in NYC and sort of early psychological forensic criminal typing in an effort to catch this guy before he strikes again. The thing I love about this book is that Carr made Gilded Age New York itself a character in the book. I just loved to read all the descriptions of streets and places and people; it was a magnificent trip back in time.