St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 312 pages
In post-Civil War North Carolina, Laura Foster steals her father’s horse to elope to Tennessee. Three months later, her body turns up in a shallow grave and Tom Dula, the man she was rumored to be eloping with, and his lover, Laura’s married cousin Ann Melton, are arrested for her murder. Tom Dula admits to the murder, but the question lingers: did Tom Dula really murder Laura Foster, and why?
In Sharon McCrumb’s fictionalized recounting of a true story, the reader will get caught up in the why, and likely be so focused on understanding Tom that they miss the small details. McCrumb’s Wuthering Heights style of narrative takes the reader into the story from the perspective of outsiders and asks them to glean details about the murder without really knowing anything about it.
Though the book starts off slow, with the background details about the narrators lives seeming unnecessary to the story, by the time the second narrator begins to describe the relationship between Tom and Ann, the reader will be hooked. The Ballad of Tom Dooley fleshes out the haunting ballad of the same name and takes the reader into a murder mystery that will trouble them for years to come.