The Ballad of Tom Dooley (Ballad Series #9)

The Ballad of Tom Dooley (Ballad Series #9)

by Sharyn McCrumb


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The Ballad of Tom Dooley is a literary triumph—what began as a fictional re-telling of the historical account of one of the most famous mountain ballads of all time became an astonishing revelation of the real culprit responsible for the murder of Laura Foster

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley…The folk song, made famous by the Kingston Trio, recounts a tragedy in the North Carolina mountains after the Civil War. Laura Foster, a simple country girl, was murdered and her lover Tom Dula was hanged for the crime. The sensational elements in the case attracted national attention: a man and his beautiful, married lover accused of murdering the other-woman; the former governor of North Carolina spearheading the defense; and a noble gesture from the prisoner on the eve of his execution, saving the woman he really loved.

With the help of historians, lawyers, and researchers, Sharyn McCrumb visited the actual sites, studied the legal evidence, and uncovered a missing piece of the story that will shock those who think they already know what happened—and may also bring belated justice to an innocent man. What seemed at first to be a sordid tale of adultery and betrayal was transformed by the new discoveries into an Appalachian Wuthering Heights. Tom Dula and Ann Melton had a profound romance spoiled by the machinations of their servant, Pauline Foster.

Bringing to life the star-crossed lovers of this mountain tragedy, Sharyn McCrumb gifts understanding and compassion to her compelling tales of Appalachia, and solidifies her status as one of today's great Southern writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250007452
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/21/2012
Series: Ballad Series , #9
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 458,501
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.02(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

SHARYN MCCRUMB is the author of The Rosewood Casket, She Walks These Hills and many other acclaimed novels. Her books have been named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. She was named a "Virginia Woman of History" for Achievement in Literature in 2008. She lives and writes in the Virginia Blue Ridge, less than a hundred miles from where her family settled in 1790 in the Smoky Mountains that divide North Carolina and Tennessee.

Read an Excerpt

The Ballad of Tom Dooley

A Ballad Novel
By Sharyn McCrumb

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2012 Sharyn McCrumb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250007452


What did I know about murder cases that a man’s life should lie in my hands? I had spent the whole of my adult life in politics, except for a few years on a mountain circuit court, a decade before that trial. A war ago.
This tale is not a penny-dreadful thriller, penned by the likes of Mr. Wilkie Collins. Look elsewhere for clues and footprints and the trappings of a puzzle story—and go to the devil if you try to make this tale into one.
A case of law is a chess game for those who make their living at it, and a great sorrow for those who get caught up in its web.
A man died bravely, doing perhaps the only noble thing he ever achieved in his brutal, useless life. Another fifty years of living would not have improved him, for he had only a minute’s worth of courage, and he spent that.
That is the burden of this story, and it would shine brighter if there were a good woman at hand with the heart and the wit to tell it well. But we have no good woman to speak out for the doomed man—only a vain and selfish ditch rose, who rightly feared for her own life, and a raddled slut who delighted in the destruction she wrought single-handed. One of those wretched women is also my client, for the pair was arrested together, and bound over to stand trial for the same crime, but I had deemed it better for all concerned that they be tried separately for this deed, and I vowed to ask for severance as soon as I was able.
The young soldier was the first to face the judge, and it was he that I was concerned with at the outset. I would do what I could for him.
People will tell this story for a century, though I’m damned if I know why. There’s little enough to it. No doubt they will sing about it, and spin fanciful tales, and act it out, turning all its principals into Sunday-school sweethearts and black-hearted villains. It will all be nonsense. At least I remember what was real.
I remember.
*   *   *
I am weary and garrulous in my old age, sitting by the fire in my fine Washington home, and thinking back twenty-odd years, to when I was domiciled here in the old Capitol Prison, instead of in the United States Senate, where I have been nigh on ever since. I have been paging through my personal papers, idly speculating about whether I should like to write my memoirs someday. They would make interesting reading, though I do say so myself. One might trace my progress from backwoods farm boy to country lawyer, to Congressman, and then to Colonel of the 26th North Carolina during the War. I saw action on the front lines in Virginia. That was about as much soldiering as I cared to experience, so when the opportunity arose, I got myself elected Governor. From the Governor’s Palace in Raleigh, I sat out the remainder of the hostilities, skirmishing with bureaucrats and trying to protect the people of my state from both armies. They clapped me in prison here in Washington at the War’s end, for my trouble, but I didn’t take it personally—all the governors were there, so I did not lack for society. In a few weeks, they let us all out again, and I went home to a state made so desolate by war that my own personal ruin hardly mattered. I began again.
I had to practice a little law after the War ended, before those same trifling government bureaucrats saw fit to let me back into the congress I had unwillingly left when my home state seceded. I do not mean to ever leave Congress again. I shall die here, protecting the interests of my fellow Tarheels for as long as God grants me breath and strength.
A fine row house in the District of Columbia city is a far cry from my birthplace—a log cabin in the Carolina backcountry—but from my boyhood I could see my way clear to getting here as surely as I could see that blue haze of mountains that walled us off from the state of Tennessee. I come of good stock, though you might not think it, for we looked no more prosperous or cultured than most of our frontier neighbors, but my father’s father had fought in the Revolution. He wintered at Valley Forge with General Washington, and fought alongside him at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. I am proudest, though, of the fact that he fought closer to home—at King’s Mountain on the South Carolina border, just west of Charlotte. In 1780 a group of backcountry volunteers, calling themselves The Overmountain Men, engaged the British forces there, and defeated them in an hour, killing their commander, and proving that untrained colonials could defeat the mighty British army. George Washington’s troops were losing the War to the north, and that little victory on a Carolina hillside proved to the rest of the country that winning was possible. It was the turning point of the War, and I was proud that my family had been part of it.
On that little mountain farm where I grew up, we plowed furrows, and slopped hogs, and hewed firewood, but we were never allowed to forget that we were destined for greater things. My grandfather had left a library of five hundred books, and my mother read to us each night when the chores were done. My father died young, though, and so the way to prosperity was a steep and thorny path for us. I got some schooling over in Tennessee at Washington College, so that I had the rudiments of Latin, and composition, debate, and ancient history, but my father’s death ended that idyll, and before long I was clerking in a fine resort hotel in Warm Springs. That, too, was an education, though. It was a zoo for the aristocracy, and I learned to pass muster as one of them.
I read law in Asheville, and then begged and borrowed the funds to take me to the University of North Carolina for the formal study of law. I meant to get elected to something before long, and so I did, but for a few years in my youth I practiced law on the circuit court out of Asheville. There was little in those experiences worth mentioning in a senator’s memoirs.
But this Wilkes County case … That came later in my career, and in it, I was defending a man on trial for his life. I had thought of including the tale in my memoirs, because it became quite a celebrated trial. The New York Herald even sent a reporter down to cover it. But the public finds it hard to recognize success or skill if one ultimately loses the case, so perhaps I will not include it, after all. I have had enough adventures for two lifetimes, without telling that sad little tale.
That Wilkes County court case constituted my brief hiatus from public life, falling in 1866, when, having been the Confederate Governor of North Carolina, I was barred from running for public office yet awhile, so, when they let me out of Capitol Prison with the rest of the Rebel governors, I bided my time and supported Harriette and the boys by returning to the practice of law. Perhaps I thought that my renown and popularity would make up for any deficiencies I might have in my long-disused courtroom skills.
The law was never much more than a means to an end for me, anyhow. I was always happy to help people escape what was coming to them, which is mostly what a defense attorney does, but from the very beginning I was only marking time until I got elected to something. But for the War, I would have never looked back.
*   *   *
A frail girl was stabbed to death in the foothills of Wilkes County, and nigh on everybody there knows who did it. Well, I didn’t know. I was practicing law in Charlotte, some ninety miles away, and I was only called in to defend the man they had arrested, a complete stranger to me, despite what people have said to the contrary over the years. He was a Confederate veteran, as was I, but we never served together, and would not have been acquainted even if we had, for I began and ended my military service as a colonel, and he stayed a sickly private and a drummer boy. We were worlds apart, except perhaps to people who looked at our lives on paper.
This twenty-two-year-old former soldier got himself arrested, and I in my infinite wisdom got the trial moved to the next county, where nobody knew any more about it than I did. My intentions were good. And I suppose I could not have done otherwise, even if I had been more in possession of the facts. In the end, a lawyer must do his client’s bidding, and I did that.
God help us both. I did that.
*   *   *
I expect that in years to come there will be more people wondering why I took this case than there will be wondering if he did it.
Oh, why did I agree to represent a man, generally accorded by my learned colleagues in the legal profession to be guilty, who could not have paid for a shot of whiskey, much less an attorney for his defense? An idle, amoral Confederate veteran, accused of stabbing a young girl to death and burying her body in the woods.
Well, somebody had to represent him. Any country lawyer will tell you that. If we managed to get Satan himself into a courtroom, it would be some lawyer’s lot to defend him, and to argue, no doubt, that he is a hard-working fellow.
But why me?
I don’t know that I had any choice in the matter. The Wilkes County judge appointed me, and ordered me to defend this young man pro bono. It is a fine sentiment, pro bono. For the public good and in the interest of justice, a lawyer can be assigned to an indigent defendant, and he must represent his client completely without charge. This ensures that the poor are accorded a defense, but it can be hard lines on a struggling attorney, and I expect that the temptation would be great to rush through the case, and move on to more lucrative matters. A man’s life is at stake, though; if I shirked my duty in so grave a matter as this, I would never sleep again.
I don’t suppose the judge pulled my name out of a hat. He could have found lawyers a-plenty in the surrounding counties without reaching all the way to Charlotte to fetch one. Perhaps he intended the appointment as a favor. Here was I forced to practice law, but lacking in experience, and perhaps he thought that a notorious murder trial would set my name before the general public, so that people would queue up to retain my services for their legal requirements.
I am sensible of the honor, but I could scarcely afford the opportunity. There I was, former Governor of the state of North Carolina, and before that a U.S. Congressman, and, in-between, for a few ill-considered months, a colonel in the Army of the Confederacy, and, only incidentally, an attorney licensed to practice law in my home state. I never thought I’d be called upon to do so again after all the loftier honors I had achieved. Indeed, I hoped not, but our fortunes shift like the tides, and the fall of the Confederacy had left me high and dry, penniless, jobless, and free only on the sufferance of the United States President. In those days I was rich only in friends.
From the corridors of power to a stuffy little courtroom in a town in Iredell County that is only on the map two days a week. When I charted the course of my life, that was an unforeseen development, but there I was.
If I should ever have the ear of posterity, it would take me a good many words to talk my way out of that one. But I am both a lawyer and a politician. Words are my stock in trade. This story, though, will be omitted from my memoirs. After all, for all the protracted nature of the legal proceedings, the case only took up a few days of my time, and its outcome did me no credit. It is a mere footnote in the long and illustrious history of a dedicated public servant. I shall not speak of it.
From time to time, though, that poor wretch crosses my mind, and before I force my thoughts on to other things, I repress a shudder, and think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
*   *   *
I was born beyond the pale of gentrified civilization, as was that young man in the dock on trial for his life. You might think that coincidence of circumstance would have made for common ground between him and me, but the truth is that we could not have been farther apart had one of us been born on the moon. My childhood poverty was only in material want, but in heritage, intellect, learning, and morality, my family had wealth beyond avarice.
For reasons I am at a loss to explain, this Wilkes County case became a cause celebre among the national press, and I fear that whenever people read about the sordid circumstances of these wretched people, they will attempt to tar all the inhabitants of the Carolina mountains with the same brush, which is hard lines on the honest and educated people who choose to live in those mountains. In defense of my fellow countrymen, I offer up the example of my own life.

Copyright © 2011 by Sharyn McCrumb


Excerpted from The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb Copyright © 2012 by Sharyn McCrumb. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. What do you think Pauline Foster's early life might have been like to make her the way she was?

2. What do Zeblon Vance and Tom Dula have in common? How are they different?

3. The author has said that this true story of nineteenth century North Carolina mirrors Wuthering Heights. Can you find a passage in the novel that echoes Wuthering Heights?

4. Ann Melton tells a story from Tom's childhood about his rescuing his dog from a deep hole by the creek bed. How does this story foreshadow what Tom does at the end of the novel?

5. If Ann Melton had told this story, instead of Pauline, what might she have said?

6. How did Tom's experience at the POW camp at Point Lookout, Maryland, affect his actions in the novel?

7. Why do you think James Melton seems not to care about Ann's relationship with Tom?

8. How was the Civil War a factor in the events of this story?

9. In the local legends of the Tom Dula case, the storytellers portray Tom and Laura Foster as "Romeo & Juliet" lovers. Do you see any evidence of this? Why do you think people tell the story that way?

10. Discuss the pros and cons of the way Zebulon Vance handled the trial of Tom Dula and Ann Melton.

11. At the close of Tom Dula's second trial, Pauline Foster got married, and since her new last name is never given, researchers are unable to trace her. What do you think the rest of her life was like?

12. Should John Anderson have gone to the authorities and told them what he knew about the disappearance of Laura Foster? Why didn't he go west by himself after Laura died?

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Ballad of Tom Dooley 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
kbock More than 1 year ago
Unlike many of the readers that have reviewed the book, I did know about the background story for this ballad. Yes, I knew the song, but I am also very well versed in the history of the characters. I grew up in Wilkes County, have heard about the case my whole life, and actually tell the story myself as a tour guide in Wilkesboro. I was extremely excited when the book was announced because Sharyn McCrumb is one of my favorite authors, and I couldn't wait to read her treatment of this case. I was not disappointed at all! The story McCrumb has written does deviate greatly from the version that I grew up hearing, and slightly from the way I tell it myself. I knew this ahead of time from reading background info on McCrumb's website, so I was prepared. I was fortunate enough to be able to actually meet the author and discuss the "facts" with her prior to reading the book, and I must say that her arguments made sense to me. Her conclusions about who actually killed Laura Foster and Tom's role in the episode matched what I have always believed. Pauline as the great pathological mastermind struck me as a little far-fetched (I think McCrumb gives Pauline way too much credit for intelligence), but I can accept that. And I know that many folks from the area have taken offense to the portrayal of Laura Foster as less than the virginal victim of a crime of passion. But in this case, she was what she was, and the purity that was attributed to her in death was not the reputation that followed her during her short life. My one complaint about the book is Zebulon Vance's narratives. I understand that McCrumb is using Vance to balance the portrayal of mountain folks, and he is definitely a stark contrast to the Happy Valley crowd. But he states the same thing repeatedly throughout the first half of the book, and to be honest, once was quite enough. We got it already! After the trial and the hanging, he contributes to the story through his carrying out of Dula's last wishes, and that was important. Other than that, I could have done without his voice after he introduced himself and his role in the drama. Finally, I have to speak up in defense of McCrumb and her characterization of the residents of Happy Valley. Many of the reviewers have taken offense at the stereotyping of backward Hillbillies in the book. And the author herself addressed her trepidation about this issue. But I am afraid that Ms. McCrumb was dead-on with her portrayal of these particular individuals. Does that mean every resident of the area at that time was totally lacking in any morals or character? NO! The reader must take into account the time and the area that is the setting for the story and not try to apply today's morality to that situation. Pauline was a nasty, cruel, vindictive tramp, but she was created by her environs and circumstance. Does that excuse her behavior (either historical or as written by McCrumb)? No! But again, she is what she is. I enjoyed this book greatly and found the background to be well researched and presented. I am so glad that Sharyn McCrumb finally chose to tackle this well-known crime that should have long ago been forgotten.
libraryclerk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good, plausible story for the background to the famous song.
delphimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read many of Sharyn McCrumb's novels, and have enjoyed the lyrical cadence of her writing and the storyteller's rendering of a tale. Two narrators present the story: Pauline Foster and Zebulon Baird Vance. Many events and people in the story are true. Vance was a lawyer in North Carolina, governor of North Carolina, and Senator from North Carolina. Vance actually defended Tom Dula(Tom Dooley) twice in the quest to save Tom Dula from the hangman's noose. Tom Dula(Dooley) was hanged for killing Laura Foster and crudely burying her body. Laura's grave remains in Elkville, Wilkes County, North Carolina. The story centers on North Carolina life in the mountains and surrounding area after the war, roughly in 1866. McCrumb shows a life of toil, hardship, and bleakness. These are people who cannot read and follow no moral rules. The sections presented by Zebulon Vance are repetitious and do little to advance the story. Vance repeats again and again about his life and upbringing while the reader is waiting to hear of the crime or the trial. His character is important to the story, but his voice is garrulous and droning, and detracts from the story. The novel would have been better told with Pauline Foster and either James Melton or Tom Dula. The speculation is that Tom's married lover, Ann Melton, committed the murder.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hang your head, Tom Dooley,Hang your head and cry;You killed poor Laurie Foster,And you know you're bound to die.Those are the lyrics to the ballad by Doc Watson and they¿ll probably seem a little off if compared to the more familiar version sung by the Kingston Trio. But Doc Watson¿s words are truer to the story of the real Tom Dooley (or Tom Dula), a mountain ¿boy,¿ Civil War veteran, hung for the murder of Laurie Foster.I¿ve often thought fiction can be more ¿true¿ than non-fiction ¿ and The Ballad of Tom Dooley is a case in point. The author did extensive research on the 1866 murder in the mountains of North Carolina and took those facts, plus her knowledge of the milieu in which the principal characters ¿ just six of them -- lived, and creates a tale that is true to the real story, intriguing and most enlightening.The principal first-person narrator ¿ Pauline Foster ¿ in most historical accounts is but a secondary character. Ms. McCrumb makes her the main character, a catalyst for the crime. She and the two other main female characters ¿ both of whom are Pauline¿s kin ¿ give testimony to what often happened on the home-front during the Civil War, especially in the South, to women forced to do terrible things simply to survive. With subtlety and style, the author gives a sense of the souther-ness of Pauline¿s speech without hitting readers over the head with it, as some authors do when portraying the southern dialect. And the author also unfolds the story in a complicated way without overburdening readers. The Ballad of Tom Dooley is a simple story well told, with complex, if flawed, characters. The Ballad of Tom Dooley is a wonderful book by an author at the top of her game. Review based on publisher-provided Advanced Uncorrected Proofs of the book. Book publishes 13 Sep 2011.
susan0316 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy Southern fiction so was very excited to win a copy of this book. Unfortanately, I had to make myself read it. There was too much detail and too many characters that were not sympathatic or likeable. I read the whole book and thought that the research the author did was fantastic and I was glad to see the other side of the popular song by the Kingston Trio but I didn't really love the book.
Mooose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I doubt many young folks nowadays have heard the Tom Dooley song but there are still plenty of us who can sing the chorus and maybe a verse or two. As I read this novel, which told the story of what McCrumb says could have happened, that song would run through my head. I'd never wondered if the ballad was based on something that really happened but wasn't surprised to find out it was. I thought the book was well written. It tended to repeat itself quite a bit but I always put that down to the tradition of oral story-telling as the story-tellers would need to repeat facts in order to ensure their listeners remembered them. Also appreciated the notes at the end which added to my understanding of how the story was researched and why certain decisions were made.
melopher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I may be the only person who was interested in The Ballad of Tom Dooley without actually having ever heard about the legend in the first place. And so, with no prior knowledge of the characters or the author, I dove into this book. I like historical novels, and found the setting of this one interesting, although most of the characters fell flat. The main character had nothing to recommend her, and from a literary standpoint, the chapters from the lawyer's point of view added nothing to the book. After the first hundred pages the writing started to get pretty repetitive--and not in an artistic stylistic way. Because the book was viewed through Pauline's eyes, who (as we are constantly told) doesn't understand what it is to feel, the whole story is viewed with a sort of ambivalence. This might make interesting reading for those that have a prior fondness for the tale of Tom Dooley and aren't up for anything too complicated, while still enjoying some details specific to the case. For historical or literary reasons alone, however, better to give this one a pass.
JaneAustenNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Seldom do I not finish a book, but, this time I just couldn't finish The Ballad of Tom Dooley. This type of "historical" fiction just wasn't my cup of tea. The 1st 67 pages contained entirely too much sex and depressive tone. I did skip around and look at some of the stuff about Gov. Vance, but only because I'm a history buff. Sorry, maybe, I just wasn't in the mood for this type of book.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Ballad of Tom Dooley, the latest tale in Sharyn McCrumb¿s Ballad Series, retells a story that most people only know through the old Kingston Trio song of the same name, if they know even that much. There is, however, a huge difference between the details of the song and what McCrumb¿s research indicates really got young Mr. Tom Dula hanged for murder on May 1, 1868. While the song paints Dooley as a man more upset that his escape has been foiled than by the murder he has committed, the novel¿s Tom Dula is even colder. The biggest difference between the song and the book, however, is that McCrumb does not believe that Dula actually killed anyone. McCrumb¿s detailed study of the Tom Dula trial transcript led her to believe that there was a fourth person intimately involved in the ¿love triangle¿ that ended with the deaths of two of those involved in it. McCrumb noticed the mention of a third Foster woman, Pauline, in the transcript and further research led her to believe that this is the real villain in this story. Surprisingly, according to McCrumb¿s version, Tom Dula was having his way with all three of the Foster cousins: Laura, the woman he was accused of stabbing to death; Ann Foster Melton, his longtime lover who was also implicated in the murder; and Pauline, a woman so spiteful and angry at the world that she meticulously and callously manipulated the ultimate fates of the other three.McCrumb tells her story through the alternating voices of Pauline Foster and a lawyer for the defense, Zeb Vance. Vance (twice governor of North Carolina, a Confederate officer, and a U.S. Senator) in his portions of the book admits more than once that he is working the case pro bono for career and political reasons of his own. McCrumb has him repeat that he was out of practice when he took the case, and she portrays him as a man with a big ego and high expectations of great personal success, not a man who cares much about his client or the fate Dula is likely to suffer.Pauline Foster is portrayed in a similarly frank manner. She carries the bulk of the narration and, in her own words, she exposes herself as an egocentric maniac with a great desire to punish anyone who even inadvertently slights her. Pauline comes to the Happy Valley settlement seeking treatment for syphilis and, although her cousins barely remember who she is, she soon manages to worm herself into the most intimate parts of their lives. Resentful of the way Anne and Tom treat her, Pauline thoroughly enjoys plotting their downfall ¿ and if anyone else gets caught in the crossfire, so be it.The Ballad of Tom Dooley is an interesting recasting of an old legend into a story that might well be closer to the truth than the original legend, or than even what has been commonly accepted as fact about the real case. McCrumb, though, takes a leap of faith or two that, although they move the story along, are impossible to prove. It all makes for an interesting, if dryly told, story that combines with the repetitiousness of some of the narration to make The Ballad of Tom Dooley into a bit of a slog to get through.Rated at: 3.0
ariadne02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sharyn McCrumb¿s series of Ballad novels about the strong-minded residents and the scenic beauty of North Carolina¿s Blue Ridge Mountains usually make a point of debunking regional stereotypes. In its bleak and honest presentation of the roots of a local legend, The Ballad of Tom Dooley takes the opposite tack, showing many examples of why these stereotypes exist.At the story¿s center are Tom Dula, a scrawny Confederate veteran with a talent for the fiddle and not much else, and Ann Foster Melton, his dark-haired (and married) lover, the most beautiful and most self-absorbed woman in all of Wilkes County. When plain-faced Pauline Foster comes down the mountain in 1866, offering to work for her Cousin Ann as a servant while getting treatment for syphilis, she deliberately spreads around resentment, jealousy, and lies along with her disease. The twisted chain of events eventually leads to the stabbing death of Laura Foster, a drab waif of a girl who¿s a distant cousin to both Ann and Pauline.Living in these isolated mountains, nobody pays much attention to morality. Although Tom and Ann have been drawn to one another since childhood, neither is faithful or sees the need to be. James Melton, Ann¿s husband, is too bewitched by her beauty to care about her affair. Left to care for her siblings after her mother's death, Laura sleeps around with many men, Tom included, because there¿s nothing much better to do.Zebulon Vance shares narration duties with Pauline, which provides some relief from her sociopathic viewpoint. In an attempt to bolster his legal career, he takes the case pro bono when Tom and Ann are jailed for Laura¿s murder. The Confederate ex-governor of North Carolina, Vance is a former mountain boy himself, though he took a different path in life than his clients. Looking back on events 20 years later, he speaks several times about his opposition to secession, his status as a U.S. Senator, and his reasons for choosing the woman he married; while he may be the only one in the bunch with brains and decency, he comes across as a bit of a snob.The novel¿s sense of history is paramount, and McCrumb deftly evokes the violence that the end of the Civil War failed to suppress in the poverty-ridden Appalachians. However, with her primary narrator, Pauline, ¿not much moved by the beauty of nature,¿ the gorgeous depictions of the region normally expected from her work aren¿t found to the same degree in this one.A century of the folk process transformed this story into the classic murder ballad ¿Tom Dooley,¿ which was made famous by the Kingston Trio in 1958. That version pinned the crime on Tom, but he isn¿t the perpetrator here ¿ and the real killer shouldn¿t come as a surprise. Although this is a novel about a crime, it¿s not meant to be a mystery.This scrupulously researched account gives a plausible scenario for how Laura Foster¿s murder may have happened ¿ the author¿s note is generous and satisfying ¿ and is worth reading for its re-creation of a real historical event. But with no reason to care about these lazy excuses for people, the promised tale of star-crossed romance just isn¿t there. Finally, knowing the reality behind the legend, one can¿t help but wonder if this sordid tragedy deserved as much attention as it got. ¿That is the burden of this story,¿ Vance himself says in the beginning, and although McCrumb is a talented writer, not even she manages to overcome it.
khiemstra631 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Until I read this book by Sharyn McCrumb, I only knew about Tom Dooley in terms of the ballad about him. In a nutshell, Tom Dooley and his neighbor, Ann Melton, were lovers since they first discovered sex in their teen years. This episode took place in the backwoods of North Carolina immediately after the end of the Civil War. Melton's cousin, Pauline Foster, arrived on her doorstep looking for work while she was being treated for syphilis. Melton had a husband and some children, although whether they were boys or girls seemed up for debate in the story. They are referred to frequently but are never present. Supposedly Ann's mother kept them a lot, but she is cited frequently as being a worthless drunk. Anyway, Ann and Tom Dooley would go at it in one bed while James Melton and Pauline slept nearby in the one-room cabin. (In separate beds or pallets.) Nobody really seemed to mind until Tom briefly took up with another Foster cousin, Laura. By that time, Pauline had grown tired of waiting on Ann and of her carrying on with Tom. Pauline managed to infect everyone involved with the "pox", quite intentionally on her part. Eventually Ann's jealousy reached such a frenzy that she took action to permanently halt the relationship between Tom and Laura, which did not exist anywhere except in the seeds planted by Pauline in Ann's imagination. Interspersed throughout the story are chapters by Zebulon Vance, the lawyer who represented Tom and Ann during their trials. (Vance was a former governor and legislator from NC.) It's quite a story, and McCrumb believes it to be historically accurate. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially that set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, will enjoy reading this book.
Romonko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ms. McCrumb knows how to tell a tale, and when she decides to tell a tale about a well-known ballad, she can't be beat. This is the story of Tom Dula (Dooley) and his lady-love Ann Foster, and the girl that is caught in their cross-fire and suffers for it - Laura Foster. I have loved this ballad, and this story is pretty close to the song although Ms. McCrumb has researched and found a few key changes to the story which she includes in this book. The book is set in North Carolina just after the war between the States (1866). Dula was a returning confederate soldier, and Ann, although married to another, his life-long love. Jealousy, plotting and downright meanness portrayed by Ann's cousin Pauline set the stage for this tragedy. I love Ms. McCrumb's characters, and she has taken this true-crime story and made it into a novel about people, situations and the times (the southern states after the war). There is a lyrical quality to Ms. McCrumb's writing that draws the reader in and immerses us in the scene.
wcath on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story behind the folk song "The Ballad of Tom Dooley" sounded like an interesting premise for a book. And it was, although I could not find one character that I liked or for whom I felt much sympathy. It would have been nice if the lyrics to the song were included at the beginning or end of the book just for those, like me, who did not know all of the words.It is very apparent that times were not easy in the hills of North Carolina following the Civil War. Nothing was in ample supply and each morsel of food or piece of clothing was the end product of dawn to dusk struggle. This was true for most people. Some skated by on their looks and their charm. The story behind The Ballad of Tom Dooley is not happy or pleasant. However, it is very interesting to see how the lives of many people were forever changed by the twisted desires and need for revenge of three people. This would probably be a good pick for a book club. I think there would be a lot to discuss.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Life was tough for the mountain people in North Carolina, and more so after the civil war. Few marriageable men were alive and woman, during the civil war, did many things they would not normally do only to survive. This is a retelling of the murder of Laurie Foster and the love story of Tom and Ann, though Ann was married to another. This is a gritty, bleak novel, Wuthering Heights type of dark brooding novel, but set in North Carolina. The characters are not very likable, though some are sympathetic, the only joy they find are in drink and fiddle playing. Yet it is a well done, well researched book and interesting reading her take on a old legend.
RidgewayGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hang your head, Tom Dooley,Hang your head and cry;You killed poor Laurie Foster,And you know you're bound to die.Sharon McCrumb bases her newest novel on the known facts of that famous murder. The Ballad of Tom Dooley is set in Wilkes county, North Carolina, a hardscrabble area near Asheville, during the years just after the Civil War. Tom Dooley was a Confederate veteran who returns to his Appalachian home determined to work as little as possible. His childhood sweetheart, Ann Melton, married a more dependable man with a farm and willingness to work it, but she and Tom pick up their relationship soon after he returns. Her husband seems resigned to her infidelity, but local gossip has Ann nervous. Into this volatile mix comes Pauline Foster, a young woman who will do just about anything to survive and who nurses grievance and resentment. She comes to live with the Meltons as a servant and she sets a string of unfortunate events into motion.There's not a likable character in this bleak story of survival. The hills and hollers of the Appalachians have always been a difficult place to get by in, but the years of war and their aftermath made things even worse. McCrumb draws an evocative picture of a beautiful, harsh place that created harsh, insular people with their own sense of morality. It's not a pretty story, but it is a compelling one.
arielfl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thank you to Library Thing and St. Martin's Press for providing me with an advanced review copy of this book. I was so excited to win this one!This is a a fictional work based on the true crime of the murder of Laura Foster
susiesharp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I expected to really like this book but I didn¿t. The chapters about the lawyer completely took me out of the story and I don¿t think served any purpose he could have had the first and last chapter just to tell us what happened after Tom was hanged (no spoilers if you¿ve heard the song you know that happened).The characters in this book are all awful people, Pauline a syphilis carrier who has absolutely no qualms with spreading this disease to everyone she can. She comes to work for her cousin Ann who is a spoiled pretty girl who is having an affair with her childhood sweetheart Tom Dula in the bed right next to her husband who seems to be completely oblivious. Pauline uses her other cousin Laura to make Ann jealous and work her into frenzy and is very proud of her behavior even with the consequences she is actually a sociopath that has no feelings one way or the other.I really wanted to like this book but it ended up just being ok for me.2 ½ Stars
cathyskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First Line: What did I know about murder cases that a man's life should lie in my hands?Author Sharyn McCrumb had been approached numerous times to write a story about Tom Dooley, but it's such a well-known tale that she really didn't want to touch it. I'm glad she changed her mind.If you read this book expecting a long written version of the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley", think again. McCrumb did her research, tracking down as many of the original documents and trial transcripts as she could. As she read, certain points in the legend didn't make sense, so she dug deeper. The end result is The Ballad of Tom Dooley.Tom Dula (Dooley is a corruption of his surname) was a handsome young man who survived the Civil War and was coasting along, subsisting as much as possible by his smile and by playing an occasional song. Ever since their early teens, Tom and Ann Foster loved each other. Ann was a renowned beauty. In order to escape a drunken slattern of a mother and an unending passel of siblings, Ann married James Melton, a man of principle and a bit of property. Ann and Tom were undeterred by Ann's marriage and continued to meet.Down from the mountains walked Pauline Foster, a relative of Ann's. Pauline was born into poverty, and the Civil War only made it worse. Having had to prostitute herself in order to survive, Pauline caught a venereal disease. Seeking treatment from a local doctor after her journey, she hired on at the Meltons, working for room, board, and a small wage she used to pay her doctor bills. She had no love for Ann, and closely guarded every one of selfish Ann's slights to her. Once she saw what Ann and Tom were up to, she knew just how to plot her revenge.Oftentimes I do not read author's notes or acknowledgements in a book. I did not make that mistake this time. In her notes and acknowledgements, McCrumb lays out how she did her research and arrived at her conclusions. As McCrumb says, "...I did not invent anything: every conclusion I made stems from a fact in the original trial transcript." She also says that she wishes people wouldn't read this book as if it were an episode of CSI. After all, "It can hardly be a mystery when practically anybody in Wilkes County will tell you on first acquaintance that 'Ann did it.'"The Ballad of Tom Dooley may not be a mystery, but it is the most chilling portrait of a sociopath that I've ever read. Pauline Foster literally made my blood run cold. Some soft-hearted people may try to blame her behavior on the Civil War. Pauline herself will tell you that she was born the way she is. The Civil War only honed her into a sharp blade.As I devoured this book, something kept tap, tap, tapping at my subconscious. By book's end, I had the answer. The story of Tom and Ann is in many ways an Appalachian version of Wuthering Heights. The parallels are uncanny.Once again, Sharyn McCrumb has woven a story that kept me spellbound.
1crazycatlady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewer's on Librarything. I have read many of Sharyn McCrumb's previous books and was thrilled to receive this book! The book is based on the true story of Tom Dula, AKA Tom Dooley, also made famous by the song, "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley". The characters, Pauline and Zebulon, telling the story back and forth provided an interesting new spin on how events may have occured. Descriptions of post Civil War North Carolina and the life of the mountain people were descriptive and gave a sense of the hopelessness felt by many southerners in the aftermath of the war. Overall, the book was a good read, but the middle seemed to drag along. There was repetition during the book that may have been unneccesary and created a feeling of being "bogged down".
TooBusyReading on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This historical fiction is getting good reviews, so don't let me put you off reading the book if it sounds like something you'd enjoy, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to be the odd (wo)man out on this one.I like the idea of the book ¿ learning the story behind the ballad of Tom Dooley. The problem I had was with the telling of the story. I like more history in my historical fiction, and this one has too much speculation for me. It goes into the mind of a relatively minor person in the real story, servant to the married lover of Tom Dula, and into the mind of Zebulon Vance, eventual attorney for the defense.There wasn't a single significant character in this book that I think I would have liked had I known them in person. Most of the story is from the point of view of Pauline Foster, the servant, and a more hateful person is hard to imagine. If I had to read one more time about Vance's political background and aspirations, I was going to have to murder him, never mind that he's been dead for more than a century.There was too much repetition of the same events and same phrases, and it became tiresome. The characters seemed one-dimensional to me.What is the true and complete story of Tom Dula? It is unlikely that anyone will ever know, and the author does give her reasons for why she thinks her version is correct. I don't think that I would have always drawn the same conclusions that she does, but that is why it is called historical fiction. Sharyn McCrumb has many fans, but if this book is typical of her writing, I can't count myself among them.I was given a copy of this book by the publisher through LibraryThing.
tloeffler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Until I received this book, I did not realize that the Kingston Trio song was based on a true story. To me, "Tom Dooley" was a famous doctor in the 60's. So for me, this was not only an interesting conjecture on the part of the author, but also my first real experience with the whole story. Tom Dula and Ann Foster had been lovers until he went into the Civil War. When he returned, she had married James Melton. Whether they remained lovers afterward (as the book tells it) or if he "took up with" her cousin Laura Foster, whose death he was hanged for, is probably lost to history. But Sharyn McCrumb makes a good case for her theory. The story is told by alternating narrators: another cousin, Pauline Foster, and Zebulon Vance, the lawyer who defended Tom pro bono. The writing was good, but all of the characters were just awful, and it was difficult to like the book much when I hated everyone in it. I generally enjoy the writing of Sharyn McCrumb, and I suspect that she didn't make the characters so bad--they were just that bad in real life!
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a stunningly well-constructed novel about the case of Tom Dula, who in 1868 was tried and hung for the murder of Laura Foster. It is based on solid research and suggests a plausible explanation as to the famoux case. It is told in the voice of Pauline Foster, a servant in Ann Melton's home, and in the voice of Zeb Vance, the leading lawyer for Dula. (I appreciated that there is no dialect in the story attempting to ape pronunciation of west North Carolina dialect--a stupid device often used by even famous writers. This book shows such it is totally unnecessary to convey the locale of the story.). An excellent and thought-provoking work, .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is historical fiction at its best. I really njoyed that she told how she came to these conclusons i plan to visit the tom dula musem one day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having lived in Watauga and Wilkes counties, I was interested in getting McCrumb's take on the Tom Dula story. Her research is thorough and meticulous, but lends itself to a more accurate portrayal of what might have actually taken place without becoming boring or pedantic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago