Long Black Veil, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Publication: Crown; April 11, 2017
About the book:
On a warm August night in 1980, six college students sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, looking for a thrill. With a pianist, a painter and a teacher among them, the friends are full of potential. But it’s not long before they realize they are locked in—and not alone. When the friends get lost and separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy, and the unexpected, far-reaching consequences reverberate through the survivors’ lives. As they go their separate ways, trying to move on, it becomes clear that their dark night in the prison has changed them all. Decades later, new evidence is found, and the dogged detective investigating the cold case charges one of them—celebrity chef Jon Casey— with murder. Only Casey’s old friend Judith Carrigan can testify to his innocence.
But Judith is protecting long-held secrets of her own – secrets that, if brought to light, could destroy her career as a travel writer and tear her away from her fireman husband and teenage son. If she chooses to help Casey, she risks losing the life she has fought to build and the woman she has struggled to become. In any life that contains a “before” and an “after,” how is it possible to live one life, not two?
Weaving deftly between 1980 and the present day, and told in an unforgettable voice, Long Black Veil is an intensely atmospheric thriller that explores the meaning of identity, loyalty, and love. Readers will hail this as Boylan’s triumphant return to fiction.
Long Black Veil was not on my reading list for last week, however, once it arrived in the mail and sat on my desk a day or two, I couldn’t resist digging into it. After reading it, I am honestly still contemplating my overall thoughts. This novel starts out extremely suspenseful, with that feeling in the air that things are going to go bad, which they do. An unlikely group of friends is standing in front of an abandoned prison and decide, “what the hell, let’s go in.” This reminded me of the whole, “Hey man, hold my beer and watch this” type of thinking, but – that’s how all great mysteries and horror books/movies come about. The events at the prison are much shorter than I expected, although extremely spooky. The bulk of the novel focuses on the aftermath of the group, what direction their lives went, and how that night continued to affect them.
This was my first time reading Jennifer Finney Boylan and she is an incredible author. The imagery, language, and feeling involved in her writing is amazing. However, my overall impression of this novel is up in the air. On one hand, I feel like it was an amazing story idea, but on the other hand, I felt like too much focus was on Judith. She allowed us glimpses into the lives of the rest of the group as the years had passed, but those glimpses just left me with more questions. I would have loved to have dug deeper into the lives of Casey, Tripper, Rachel, Maisie, Ben and even Karl. It almost felt like a tease because of the initial character development that was never truly fulfilled as the novel went on.
As beautiful as the author’s writing is, I was also confused several times while reading this novel. Not the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last, but I struggled to determine who the narrator was in each chapter and where they were in their lives. I honestly thought at one point that two of the characters had switched identities and also kept second-guessing myself wondering if Judith was even alive and breathing. There was a strong similarity between one of the characters and the name on a driver’s license that also had me flipping back and forth between chapters to make sure that there wasn’t a reincarnation twist that I had missed.
My hopes are that this review doesn’t come across as negative because I was completely absorbed in the novel. I feel that if not for the issues I ran across, I could have labeled this as one of my favorite reads ever. This is an intellectual read that requires thought and consideration. This novel also touches on a variety of important social issues that are absolutely in need of being addressed in today’s fiction novels. Despite the confusion, I am completely happy with the opportunity to have read Long Black Veil and look forward to reading more from this extremely talented author in the future.
*Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!
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Learn more about Jennifer Finney Boylan by visiting her web page.