"Montgomery's debut features two tough-as-nails, strong-willed women whose empathy leaves a lasting impression. A simultaneous examination of women's rights, coal mining, prohibition, and Appalachian life, this is a fantastic choice for historical fiction fans."Library Journal (starred)
"[An] engaging debut...Vivid historical details, an intriguing mystery, and strong female characters."Kirkus Reviews
"Set when coal was king and the Pinkertons its strikebreakers, The Widows is a gripping, beautifully written novel about two women avenging the murder of the man they both loved."Hallie Ephron, New York Times bestselling author of You'll Never Know, Dear
"The Widows is the story of a community in crisis: the Pinkertons are waging war against miners and the law, and no one is safe from their recklessness. But two brave women take a stand, committing themselves to saving their community and families. Jess Montgomery's gorgeous writing can be just as dark and terrifying as a subterranean cave when the candle is snuffed out, but her prose can just as easily lead you to the surface for a gasp of air and a glimpse of blinding, beautiful sunlight. This is a powerful novel: a tale of loss, greed, and violence, and the story of two powerful women who refuse to stand down."Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy
"In the hard-luck, homespun Appalachian town of Kinship, Ohio, in 1924, two strong women become unlikely comrades to solve a murder in this flinty, heartfelt mystery that sings of hawks and history, of coal mines and the urgent fight for social justice."Julia Keller, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bone on Bone
“Two women, a murdered husband, and the secret life he lived. Set in Appalachian Ohio coal country in 1924, The Widows kept me on the edge of my seat. Jess Montgomery is a masterful storyteller. This is a novel about courage and the good hearts of women, and it builds, almost unbearably, to its stunning end.”Lee Martin, author of the Pulitzer Prize Finalist The Bright Forever
“The Widows is powerful reminder that there have always been strong women; they just haven't made it into the history books. This terrific novel corrects that omission by spinning a compelling tale of courageous women in a place and time rarely portrayed in fiction. Jess Montgomery is a top-notch storyteller.”Nancy Pickard, author of The Virgin of Small Plains
"Jess Montgomery wows with her awesome debut novel, The Widows. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as Lily and Marvena fight for justice in a time and place where it hardly exists . . . they are heroes for every age, and represent all the women who have fought for justice in every age and who continue that fight today."Victoria Thompson, bestselling author of Murder on Trinity Place
"With compassion and skill, Jess Montgomery deftly smashes stereotypes and puts a human face on the cost of coal mining in 1924 Appalachian Ohio. Rich with historical details, yet fast paced, The Widows revolves around a murder investigation. But it was the vivid voices of Lily Ross and Marvena Whitcomb that completely captivated my heart and kept me reading long into the night."Ann Weisgarber, author of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree
"Pulling back the curtain on a time and place where women's roles were too often overlooked, The Widows is full of characters who surprise those who underestimate them. A rich, empowering, and satisfying read."Jessica Strawser, author of Not That I Could Tell
Montgomery's debut novel introduces Lily Ross, a sheriff's widow in 1920s Appalachian Ohio who takes on her husband Daniel's work in order to solve his murder, and Marvena, Daniel's childhood sweetheart, who helps Lily while also organizing mineworkers.
Marvena shows up at Lily's house on the day of Daniel's funeral, looking for Daniel to ask if he's learned anything about her missing daughter, Eula, or her brother Tom, a miner who's been jailed recently for his union talk. The women have more than Daniel in common: Marvena's common-law husband, John, a veteran of the real-life Battle for Blair Mountain mineworkers' uprising, and Lily's father, the town grocer, died together trying to rescue trapped miners six months earlier. Bonded by their common losses, their determination to learn what happened to Daniel, and their concern for better working conditions for miners, Lily and Marvena become allies. Montgomery portrays their class differences—Lily grew up in a prosperous family, Marvena has had a hardscrabble life—while convincing readers that the two women's strong wills and shared tragedies are grounds for their alliance. The mysteries of Daniel's murder and Eula's disappearance lead to an unexpected outcome and a surprising murderer. As the book draws to a close, Lily, who was appointed sheriff by men who thought she'd cause them no trouble, is running for the position in her own right, perhaps setting the stage for further installments. Montgomery effectively provides backstory through her characters' memories, but some of those passages are longer than necessary. Occasional interruptions to explain things like how to make sorghum are distracting, and many of the minor characters are not well fleshed-out. However, these are small problems in an otherwise engaging debut. An extensive Author's Note provides insight into the women and historical events that inspired Montgomery.
Vivid historical details, an intriguing mystery, and strong female characters.
DEBUT In Kinship, OH, 1924, Lily Ross's husband, Daniel, is killed in the line of duty as sheriff. The griefstricken Lily grapples with unanswered questions and her new duties as acting sheriff. Her sorrow is compounded by the sudden appearance of Marvena Whitcomb, a coal miner's widow, who shares a past with Daniel and whose daughter, Eula, is currently missing. An unlikely pair, underestimated by everyone, Lily and Marvena navigate Daniel's secrets, investigate Eula's disappearance, dodge conflicting loyalties among the moonshine distributors, and bond over their shared loss as the tension between the coal miners and mine owners escalates. On the edge of discovering the truth, they suffer one final, mutual betrayal, which propels them toward a series of clever and emotionally satisfying solutions. VERDICT Inspired by the true story of Maude Collins, Ohio's first female sheriff, and prominent labor and community organizer Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Montgomery's debut novel features two tough-as-nails, strong-willed women whose empathy leaves a lasting impression. A simultaneous examination of women's rights, coal mining, prohibition, and Appalachian life, make this is a fantastic choice for historical fiction fans. [See Prepub Alert, 7/9/18.]—Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT