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The Unquiet Grave: Book Review
The Legend of Zona
With no background on this novel, I was stunned that Sharyn McCrumb's account in The Unquiet Grave was based on the Greenbrier Ghost of North Carolina.
This account narrated by several characters including the grieving mother of a murdered woman, the lawyer that took the case and was currently condemned to a horrendous stay in a mental hospital, and a doctor hearing the story for the first time, the story of what happened to Zona Shue comes to light as the lawyer explains to the doctor about the strange case of a conviction that came about from testimony beyond the grave.
The story is deeply intriguing as you delve deeper into the folklore and find out the case while slightly fictionalized for the novel contains the key facts of the trial and conviction and that the town in question had erected a statute of its witness specter more than a hundred years after her death in 1979.
Loosely based on the Greerbrier ghost, facts of the case remain close in this fictionalized retelling of murder
A Tragic End
In this cell, a lawyer tells his story of the strangest case he had been part of with a doctor at the hospital, the time that a grieving mother had wanted the testimony of her dead daughter to prove that her husband had been the killer.
Described as a loose woman, and too free in her ways, Zona had a reputation that shamed her family, especially that of her mother. Although she was over twenty-one, and had fallen pregnant, Zona's parents had pushed for the easiest means of getting their daughter distanced from the family. When the father of the child showed little interest in marriage, and Zona herself was moving onto interest in other men, the family had decided she would give away her child ten days after birth and hope the towns folk had a short memory of any sort of incident.
A year to the date of the birth, Zona had moved on to a new man that she had briefly met the year before while visiting cousins. The blacksmith, was charming and much older. At this point he was just rid of his second wife and a child he had no contact with and in little time naive Zona was smitten.
Married within weeks of her romance, Zona's father was glad to finally have married off his wild daughter and hoped to restore the family reputation. The town still snickered at her last pregnancy and assumed it was the reason for the fast betrothal.
Once married, Zona instantly became isolated from her family brushing off any offer to come and visit and acting strangely on the few instances when she had saw them. She seemed afraid of her husband's temper, frail, and generally looked unwell and the family assumed it was "women's troubles" and didn't really look to be any more involved. Her mother noted the last time she had laid eyes on Zona it would be in the dress which she was married and later buried, a high collared number that hid most of her throat.
One day boys in the village came to tell the family that Zona had been found dead at the bottom of the stairs and it was assumed a fall was to be blamed and her husband Edward, whom went mostly by the nickname of Trout, was quick to have her buried among her family plot.
With no investigation into her death and a strange request she wear a scarf and have a blanket tucked up around her neck in the casket, Trout seemed oddly suspicious of anyone asking too many questions about the death of his third wife of only three months and quickly disappeared after the funeral.
It was then in spirit form that Zona began to communicate with her mother from beyond the grave imploring she bring her killer to justice.
Zona began to visit her mother from beyond the grave and implore her mother seek justice for her death
Lady Killer Caught
Seeing her visions from Zona as a gift from god, her mother refused to give up the notion that her daughter had been killed and even though other members of the family, including her own husband were ashamed and afraid to have the memory of Zona's wild life inflict anymore pain and attention on them, she couldn't ignore her dead daughter's pleas.
Finding a lawyer that mostly worked with African American clients, she presented her case and begged that the lawyer hear her out and that her daughter be exhumed to prove that her death was due to foul play.
When it was granted, three physician's attended to Zona's body. Removal of the dress and the scarf proved bruises around her neck and other parts of the body and it through examination it was presented that Zona's neck had been broken- suspicious as it was the same affliction that had killed Trout's first wife and the second was frightened of him it was suspected that he had also abused her during the marriage.
The case was then presented, but would the testimony of what Zona's mother had been told in dreamed conversations with her daughter and the autopsy report be enough to convict Trout of her death?
Like a nod to modern crime cases, the death of the first wife was the smoking gun in the case and Edward Shue was arrested for the death of both women.
Although Zona's mother never heard from her ghost again after she was properly laid to rest again and eventually the townsfolk a generation later had purchased her a proper headstone, it was said in the novel, perhaps fictionalized that Trout spent the rest of his days imprisoned and haunted by the woman that he had viciously murdered.
I thought this was a pretty great book, coming into the reading not knowing anything about the actual case or even that it was based on the Greenbrier ghost.
What was intriguing was the willingness of the lawyer to take the case just based on the mother's interactions with her daughter's ghost and with that they were able to petition to have the body exhumed and examined. Without the additional murder of the first wife added to the case, its unknown if Trout would have gone on to take another wife that he would have killed.
Zona Shue has gone on to be a local legend in the area surrounding Greenbrier and is even the subject to a musical on the case entitled Zona.