Title: Little Deaths
Author: Emma Flint
Publisher: Picador Books
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?
This novel, to me, was a dark and mysterious journey through life in an American town during a high profile trial during the 1960’s. Based on a true story (which I now want to read much more about), Little Deaths opens as alluring mother Ruth stands accused of murdering her two children. The book mostly focuses on the lead up to, and duration of, the trial, not just focusing on her but on other characters too. There’s Peter, the journalist who becomes fascinated with the case – or perhaps more with Ruth herself; there’s Devlin the Detective, who is determined to send Ruth down for the murders; there’s a variety of Ruth’s ex-partners including the father of her children – all the characters together have very different parts to play in causing – or trying to prevent – Ruth’s incarceration.
It’s interesting that in Little Deaths, we’re not sure whether to like or trust Ruth. She has many flaws, and I felt that her behaviour was often pretty crap as a mother, but I couldn’t tell whether this meant we shouldn’t trust her, or whether she was telling the truth and actually was innocent – it’s all pretty up in the air because we don’t get to know her that well – otherwise if we were really inside her head we’d know if she did it, which would take away the element of suspense. So because of this she feels a bit of an enigma, and therefore it can be hard at times to sympathise with Ruth. I struggled to really care about her that much. Despite this, I still really enjoyed reading the novel and learning more about the Malone’s lives.
There are some quite shocking parts to the novel and some of the characters seem pretty nasty, but because of the distance the reader has from Ruth, you feel a bit like you’re reading it through a filter which makes it all seem less intense.
The main element of mystery in this book is whether Ruth did or didn’t do it; really the book shouldn’t be classed as a mystery in the traditional sense. It focuses more on Ruth and her ex husband Frank’s lives, and Ruth’s relationships with other men and friendships with other women, slowly unravelling the secrets and problems they faced, rather than being about trying to guess who ‘did’ it, all with a dash of suspense in there. The trial brings twists and turns and some surprises too.
I really enjoyed reading Little Deaths and would recommend it to anyone who wants something dark, well-written and a little different!
Many thanks to Picador and Netgalley for the copy of this novel.
Little Deaths is published in the UK on 12 January 2017.