The Widows: A Novel Hardcover – January 8, 2019
The Widows by Jess Montgomery is inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff. The plot delves into how two women fought greed and violence while overcoming the loss of a loved one.
The author noted, “This is a darker and deeper style of writing, much more than my other stories. For example, I examine the Pinkerton men and the violence they used. I read multiple books that talked about how these men would shoot up the striking camps. I put in this book quote by one of the Pinkerton men, ‘A real war, and then, rule of law won’t matter. Those miners who resist, why, we’ll put ‘em down like rabid dogs.’”
The protagonists Lily and Marvena are based on the real-life historical figures of Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in Ohio, and Mother Jones, the famous activist and labor organizer. Sheriff Daniel Ross, the husband of Lily is murdered and no one knows by whom. Those powerful in the town want to pin it on a coal miner, Marvena’s brother. She has something in common with Lily since she also lost her husband, but to a coal mining accident. Because the mine owners think she will be easy to control, Lily is appointed sheriff pending the next election. But having a mind of her own and a sense of justice she partners with Marvena to find the elusive murderer and Marvena’s missing daughter.
“I wrote both Lily and Marvena as tough. Lily is sensitive but is also a protector who wants to support her community. She keeps her emotions close to her heart. Marvena is fierce and persistent, but also has a tender streak. Although both women were wary of each other at first, they have a common goal to find out what happened. They end up with a strong friendship and recognize that each is balancing their own demons.”
Readers might be curious as to what is real and what is fiction. Montgomery commented, “In real life Collins had five children, and the person who killed her husband was known. I decided it would be interesting to have Lily take the sheriff position to find out who killed her husband. The similarity is that both women lost their husbands in the line of duty, both were appointed sheriff, and both were elected. The differences: Lily is eight years younger than Maude during that time period and she had only had two children.”
Historical facts are intertwined in this novel that also has strong female characters and an intriguing mystery. Readers get a glimpse into the 1920s-coal mining town in Appalachian Ohio as the author examines women’s rights, prohibition, and the life of a coal miner.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“The Widows kept me on the edge of my seat. Montgomery is a masterful storyteller.” ―Lee Martin, author of Pulitzer Prize-Finalist The Bright Forever
Kinship, Ohio, 1924: When Lily Ross learns that her husband, Daniel Ross, the town’s widely respected sheriff, is killed while transporting a prisoner, she is devastated and vows to avenge his death.
Hours after his funeral, a stranger appears at her door. Marvena Whitcomb, a coal miner’s widow, is unaware that Daniel has died, and begs to speak with him about her missing daughter.
From miles away but worlds apart, Lily and Marvena’s lives collide as they realize that Daniel was not the man that either of them believed him to be―and that his murder is far more complex than either of them could have imagined.
Inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff, this is a powerful debut about two women’s search for justice as they take on the corruption at the heart of their community.
“The Widows is a gripping, beautifully written novel about two women avenging the murder of the man they both loved.”―Hallie Ephron, New York Times bestselling author of You’ll Never Know, Dear
“Jess Montgomery‘s gorgeous writing can be just as dark and terrifying as a subterranean cave when the candle is snuffed out, but her prose can just as easily lead you to the surface for a gasp of air and a glimpse of blinding, beautiful sunlight. This is a powerful novel: a tale of loss, greed, and violence, and the story of two powerful women who refuse to stand down.”―Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy
“[A] flinty, heartfelt mystery that sings of hawks and history, of coal mines and the urgent fight for social justice.”―Julia Keller, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bone on Bone
JESS MONTGOMERY is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of The Widows, Jess was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus. She lives in her native state of Ohio.
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