Review: Little Deaths

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Review for "Little Deaths" by Emma Flint (2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

It’s the summer of 1965, and Ruth Malone’s two young children, Frankie and Cindy, mysteriously disappear from her apartment in Queens. Cindy’s body is found several hours later, and Frankie’s is found after several weeks, unrecognizable due to decomposition. Ruth, a single mother, is recently separated and in a custody battle with her husband, Frank. The police (all male, of course) find empty liquor bottles and letters to married men in Ruth’s apartment and immediately suspect her of the crime. In their eyes, she is an unfit mother, dressed provocatively, and hardly grieving. Ruth is trailed day and night, all while she continues to frequent night clubs and date various men, though they don’t see her devastating breakdowns in private.

The book is engrossing in the first 75 pages or so, then it shifts a bit. Well, a lot. Enter Pete Wonicke, a young news reporter who, by a lucky break, falls into the Ruth Malone story. Most of what we learn about Ruth’s world after Pete enters the story comes from him as he interviews her various boyfriends, estranged husband, the detectives on the case, and her friends. As the novel continues, it’s more and more of Pete’s POV and less of Ruth’s, which I found super annoying, especially because it’s clear after awhile that he’s obsessed with her.

The problem here is that I never really got over the POV shift from the first half of the book. There is a sense of urgency as you read about Ruth and the anguish she feels after the loss of her children. The rest of the book after this is simply not very engaging, nor was it particularly memorable. While I can understand the author’s purpose of detaching Ruth from the story (to keep the suspense going), it’s unfortunate, because such a move was totally at the expense of character development here. There’s so little of Ruth by midway into the book that it’s almost like she’s a ghost. By this point I was so detached from the story I wanted to put it down completely. I did manage to read it until the end because I did want to know who killed the children, and when that’s revealed in the final pages of the book, I wasn’t impressed.

I can say that I loved Emma Flint’s sense of setting and the period detail of this book. I was surprised to discover on the back flap that she is British, because this story is so uniquely American-style noir. Not bad overall, and certainly would be open to reading more of Emma Flint in the future.

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