Little Deaths is inspired by the true story of Alice Crimmins who was tried for the murder of her two young children in Queens, New York in 1965, and oh my, what a compelling story this is!
We are introduced to the mother, now Ruth Malone, who lives in an apartment in Queens whose two children Frankie and Cindy went missing from their bedroom. With little Cindy found strangled in a nearby parking lot a day later, Frankie remained missing for a further ten days, and then he too was found murdered. Despite the horrible crime as the book unfolds we see that Ruth was tried, not as much on hard evidence but because the former cocktail waitress did not behave as the public expects a bereaved mother to act.
I was instantly drawn into the tale, the world that Ruth lived in is one that is relatively easy to sympathise with. Her life hadn’t turned out as she expected, her dreams stunted by the birth of her two children and then she separated from her husband Frank. At the time the children went missing the two were locked in a custody battle with Ruth determined not to relinquish her children but at the same time nor was she going to live like a nun. Contrary to the working class values that was Queens at that time, her neighbours disapproved of her association with a number of other men,added to which she cared about her appearance, drank and smoked. The hard truth is that Ruth wanted more from her life but did that mean she was the one who killed the children? The countless crimes against Ruth mount throughout the book as the police, certain of her guilt, have her under almost constant surveillance so when she buys a new dress soon after Cindy’s body was found, her guilt was almost confirmed.
Emma Flint has provided us with one of the most complex of female characters and each incident can be viewed from differing angles and the conclusions made will depend on which angle you consider to be most realistic. This creation really takes the book way beyond a simple rehash of the crime itself. I felt I knew Ruth, I could both identify with some of her thoughts whilst at other times wonder why she made life quite so hard for herself, after all she was far from stupid – perhaps that was her downfall?
In the mix of characters we have Ruth’s mother, her ex Frank, a couple of male friends, the police and the crime reporter determined to make a name for himself, Pete Wonicke, whose obsession with the case added a whole other layer of interest to the story. On the sidelines are the former babysitter and other neighbours all who are pertinent, maybe not to the main mystery but in building the picture of the time and place. The atmosphere of this book was really spot on for both and part of what I loved so much was the feeling of being transported to a different world. The third person narrative was entirely appropriate for the book which is an exploration of values of the time as much as a murder mystery.
I know it is a cliché but once I started this book I simply couldn’t put it down, and as a result of how wrapped up in Ruth’s story I became, have spent my time since with an obsession with Alice Crimmins. From my research I can confirm that the author has clearly done hers although I’m sure the book had far more impact because I read it before learning about the case that inspired it.
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book from the publishers Picador and this review is my unbiased thanks to them.