There is something dangerous about hearing an author speak about their work - their personality is imprinted on your mind and you risk reading them into the book more than they intended and they may create expectations that are hard to live up to. -- You may have guessed that I've heard Jennifer Boylan speak. Thankfully, Boylan is a pro and gave an entertaining talk without giving too much away. The points she hit upon, the questions she raised about the work, are present in the pages of 'Long Black Veil' and therefore available to any reader. I've never read any of her other work, but this is apparently her first piece of fiction written for adults in twenty years.
On a dark night in 1980 six recent college grads, a younger sibling, and a professor wind up beneath the walls of Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, closed eight years before. The door is open so they go inside. The innocent exploration turns terrible when one of their friends vanishes. The survivors are each scarred by what happened that night. 25 years later a body is found and Jon Casey is the prime suspect for the murder. It appears that only one person can vouch for his innocence. The only problem is, is that he's dead. A witness does exist, however: Judith, a wife and mother and writer in rural Maine, must wrestle with her personal demons and risk everything to be able to come forward and save Jon's life.
The bones, har har, of the novel are that of a thriller, but Boylan has created something much more satisfying then that. This is about romance and haunting and identity. Judith reminisces about he youthful infatuations and the fear that kept it at bay, the shadow of her past and what happened to her and her friends, and what makes her her. There is a large cast of characters and they don't all get the star treatment a reader might crave, but being as the story centers on the essential impenetrability of other people's inner selves, do these characters need more of their quirks labeled for the novel to succeed? Sue me if I'm side-stepping an issue that I usually spend a lot of time wringing my hands over, but the bottom line is that I couldn't stop reading this and shamelessly ignored many other books on my table to finish it as fast as I could. That counts as an unqualified success.