Friday, July 13, 2018

Long Black Veil

“But late at night, when the north wind blows
In a long black veil, she cries over my bones”
So goes the song of a woman who kept her secret, though it cost her lover’s life.

In 1980, on impulse three college student couples, along with one little brother and one old German professor, explore an abandoned prison in the heart of Philadelphia. Eight went in, but only seven came out. Thirty-five years later, a grisly discovery brings them back together. This nightmare reunion reveals that one of them has changed beyond recognition but most have been unable to leave the prison behind.

Boylan uses the framework of a murder mystery to explore the way we are haunted by our pasts, a recurring theme in her books. This enhances the suspense as the twists of plot turn on the quirks of the characters. The settings are vivid and it’s not hard to imagine a movie based on the story, especially as Eastern State Penitentiary is a real place.

There are echoes of Boylan’s memoir I’m Looking Through You in Long Black Veil. The song title clue made me think of Sharyn McCrumb’s ballad series, for example, She Walks These Hills. And McCrumb’s ballad mysteries also evoke a past haunted by guilt.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

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