Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

I went into this book with high hopes after having had it recommended to me by tons of people…and it did not live up to my expectations at all.

2/5 stars

cover these shallow graves

synopsis for reviews 2

Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

my thoughts for reviews 1

This book did not work for me, but I never hated it enough to DNF it.

My main problem with this book centers around the main character, Jo—and it’s really frustrating, because on paper, I should have loved her. She was from an old money family that wanted to shove her into a box labeled Good Girl, but she wanted to rebel from that sheltered life to become a journalist (like Nellie Bly…they said about a million times). She was headstrong and spunky and feminist in an era that wanted women to sit down and shut up, and when faced with the murder of her father, she was going to be the one who found his killer, societal norms be damned.

…at least, that’s who she was supposed to be.

In actuality, I found Jo to be naive and annoying. She knew almost nothing about the real world and refused to admit that anyone she knew could have a dark side—while she was investigating a murder. I never fell in love with her spunk; she was rebellious only when no one was watching, and docile in the society she was supposedly revolting from.

Most fundamentally, Jo’s character never struck me as brilliant or journalistic. She was just a girl in over her head trying to get justice for her father…and that would have been okay (really interesting actually) if the author hadn’t spent all her energy trying to convince me otherwise.

Here’s the thing, though. As much as I hated Jo for being clueless, I had to admit that it was at least partially believable. Her entire life had been dedicated to keeping her sheltered and pure, so was it really her fault if she didn’t understand what was going on when people assumed she was a prostitute? Not really—and yet, it was so annoying to read that I ended up hating Jo anyway.

The rest of the characters were very meh. Most of the side characters were one-dimensional, existing to fill a role rather than add nuance or depth to the story. Still, I liked a few of the characters, especially Fay and Oscar.

Eddie, the journalist Jo ropes into helping her investigate her father’s death, suffered similar character flaws. Even once I knew his backstory, he remained a fairly boring character. He never did anything unexpected or revealed a surprising side of himself.

The romance between Eddie and Jo was instalove, pure and simple. Jo would have fallen for the first mildly attractive guy who treated her like a human being…and she did. Eddie was a smart reporter, but there was nothing about him that made him “right” for Jo, and their romance felt more like an inevitable plot device than falling in love.

Of course, Jo was also tied to old money Bram, her presumptive fiance and boring Good Guy. I actually would have liked this story more if the love triangle had been emphasized, but as it was, Jo had two love interests, and I cared about neither.

The writing in These Shallow Graves didn’t work for me. It was very “telly” (instead of “showy”), and a lot of the dialogue felt stilted and awkward. The setting was described well, but there were a lot of details thrown in that struck me as “look at my research” instead of “this adds to the story.”

Finally, the actual mystery in These Shallow Graves was nothing amazing. The plot felt very straightforward, and while Jo might have been shocked when accidental deaths turned out to be murders, I certainly wasn’t.

This book is incredibly long, and unnecessarily so. A faster and shorter plot could have made the mystery feel more exciting, but as it was, each clue was beaten to death before the next one emerged. I think this book could have earned an entire extra star if it wasn’t sooooooooo long.

Still, when the whole mystery was laid out, it was an interesting and layered story. The plot never dragged so much that I gave up on the book. For all its faults, TSG kept me reading.

I would recommend this book to fans of historical fiction set during this era and to people willing to forgive their protagonist for certain faults. It is an interesting look at the time period, but the mystery is not strong enough for me to recommend it as a mystery novel.

Overall, this is a book that rubbed me the wrong way from the very beginning, but I believe that someone with different tastes could really enjoy the story and the characters. 

5 thoughts on “Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

  1. Uh oh, well, I think that makes up my mind on this one. I’d been really umming and erring over whether to pick this one up but was never quite sold on it. At least now you’ve saved me the hassle of finding out for myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember being really excited to read this and when I finally got to, I couldn’t get into it. I think I only made it a few chapters before I stopped, but I’ve always intended to give it a try again. Maybe it should just stay on the bottom of my TBR shelf for now, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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