Long Black Veil
On a warm August night in 1980, six college students sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, looking for a thrill. With a pianist, a painter and a teacher among them, the friends are full of potential. But it’s not long before they realize they are locked in—and not alone. When the friends get lost and separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy, and the unexpected, far-reaching consequences reverberate through the survivors’ lives. As they go their separate ways, trying to move on, it becomes clear that their dark night in the prison has changed them all. Decades later, new evidence is found, and the dogged detective investigating the cold case charges one of them—celebrity chef Jon Casey— with murder. Only Casey’s old friend Judith Carrigan can testify to his innocence.
But Judith is protecting long-held secrets of her own – secrets that, if brought to light, could destroy her career as a travel writer and tear her away from her fireman husband and teenage son. If she chooses to help Casey, she risks losing the life she has fought to build and the woman she has struggled to become. In any life that contains a “before” and an “after,” how is it possible to live one life, not two?
Weaving deftly between 1980 and the present day, and told in an unforgettable voice, Long Black Veil is an intensely atmospheric thriller that explores the meaning of identity, loyalty, and love. Readers will hail this as Boylan’s triumphant return to fiction.
Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan
This is an amazing book that surprised in many ways. Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan is extremely well-written, has strong characters, and an ending I could only hope for! This is a tough review to write simply because I don’t want to spoil anything, but the best things I want to talk about might be considered spoilers.
The mystery at the crux of the story is a simple one, and perhaps because it is so simple, we never really see it coming. All is revealed to the reader midway through the book, which is a good thing because the heart of this novel doesn’t lie in solving the mystery. The heart of this novel lies in piecing these people together. In watching them struggle to overcome what happened, stutter, fail, and then try again. Only after everything has been brought to light is there any hope of moving forward.
There are slight suggestions to spoilers here as I will briefly touch upon the ending. I was worried, given what unfolds in the book, that the ending would be one we see all too often. A trope that I hate with a passion that befalls characters like Judith, where they are denied happy endings and used as a means of self-reflection for other….. ‘mainstream’ characters. Boylan definitely teases that this is the way it will end, that we will get that predictable ending so many characters like Judith meet in ‘mainstream’ fiction, but thanks to every deity, we don’t get that. We get a good ending. Perhaps some cynics will say it was too saccharine considering the events of the book, but I disagree, and would argue that those readers possibly missed the point. The point of the mystery, the point of the novel. That holding onto hate, to darkness, to secrets, will poison and consume you, will lead you to darker roads you might not be able to turn away from. Yet, if you persevere, you face the truth, and are willing to accept the same in others, then yes, good things are possible.
Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan is an extremely well-written novel that draws its suspense not primarily from the mystery, but from the interpersonal relationships between old friends and former selves; the struggle for self-acceptance for ALL of the characters.
Quotes & Excerpts
For a long time, I’d searched the world, thinking I could start up new friendships like the ones I’d had before. But I never met people like that again. I know people will think that’s what everyone believes about their college friends, but it’s true. Maybe we’re like flowers that open up at that brief moment in our lives, and after that, we close up again, one by one.
– Chapter 8
I have a different theory, which is even more harebrained. It goes like this: Maybe we should all just love one another, even if we don’t completely understand the things that people bear in their dark, strange hearts, even if the stars that other men and women are following seem invisible to us. If we make ourselves open to the humanity of others first, maybe understanding will follow. An incomprehensible theory of the universe isn’t necessary if your only ambition is to embrace another soul. What you need, maybe all you need, in fact, is the willingness to love.
– Chapter 24