Publisher: Hachette Books
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
It’s 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone–a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress–wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy’s body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.’s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth.
As police investigate the murders, the detritus of Ruth’s life is exposed. Seen through the eyes of the cops, the empty bourbon bottles and provocative clothing which litter her apartment, the piles of letters from countless men and Ruth’s little black book of phone numbers, make her a drunk, a loose woman–and therefore a bad mother. The lead detective, a strict Catholic who believes women belong in the home, leaps to the obvious conclusion: facing divorce and a custody battle, Malone took her children’s lives.
Pete Wonicke is a rookie tabloid reporter who finagles an assignment to cover the murders. Determined to make his name in the paper, he begins digging into the case. Pete’s interest in the story develops into an obsession with Ruth, and he comes to believe there’s something more to the woman whom prosecutors, the press, and the public have painted as a promiscuous femme fatale. Did Ruth Malone violently kill her own children, is she a victim of circumstance–or is there something more sinister at play?
Inspired by a true story, Little Deaths, like celebrated novels by Sarah Waters and Megan Abbott, is compelling literary crime fiction that explores the capacity for good and evil in us all.
This book caught my eye immediately for several reasons. First, the cover is so striking in its simplicity, then the blurb is intriguing, I love that it takes place in the sixties, it’s one of my favorite eras. After I received my copy I discovered that the author was inspired by a real case and that was just the icing on the cake for me. I haven’t read a true crime novel for quite some time, but the idea of reading a book with truthful elements was so interesting to me.
Ruth Malone is living her worst nightmare, both of her young children went missing and then were discovered days later murdered. Unfortunately for her, she’s the easy target for the police and her community as she’s different from her neighbors. She’s a party girl, she drinks more than is considered to be acceptable, is promiscuous and is estranged from her husband, Frank. She dresses provocatively and takes pride in her appearance and the worst part is that she doesn’t behave the way people assume a grieving mother would. Devlin is the cop working the case and he presumes she is guilty on the very night Frankie and Cindy go missing. Everything about Ruth and the person she is was frowned upon in the sixties and it was interesting to think that not much has changed as far as how many women are still judged based on the way they look today.
Pete Woinecke is a rookie reporter who manages to nab this story and though he has very little direct interaction with Ruth he falls under her spell and develops an obsession with her. He believes she is guilty in the beginning but as he continues to search for answers, he wavers and wonders if she may be innocent after all. I had a similar experience as one minute I would be sure she was innocent, then the next things would flip as she said or did something that made me shake my head.
The ending of this one was dramatic and unexpected and you do find out what really happened to the Malone children, but there is no real sense of justice being served. This made it all the more honest and true to life as in reality, things are often left messy and unfinished.
This isn’t your traditional mystery/thriller type novel, it’s deeper than that, it has the vibe of literary fiction and I was reminded of Tana French minus the density of her work. Every word that Flint wrote serves a purpose and the result is a powerful and profound read, she’s a genuinely talented writer and storyteller.
Overall rating: 4/5
Thanks to Hachette Books for my review copy.