The Premise: it’s the summer of 1965, and mother-of-two, Ruth, wakes up one morning to find that her young children have disappeared. As the worst case scenario unfolds, beautiful, intriguing Ruth finds herself under suspicion as the police, along with the rest of New York, contemplate whether murdered her own kids.
Thoughts: I don’t usually read crime novels; it’s just not a genre I’m generally interested in, but I bought this one as part of my mission to read everything on the Baileys Prize long-list. It’s definitely an enthralling read, and the central mystery of what happened to Ruth’s children unfolds in a really intriguing way.
Obviously, the premise is upsetting, and the descriptions of Ruth’s children when they’re found by the police are quite graphic. Just as effective is Flint’s portrayal of the massively sexist investigation into the deaths of the children, with the lead detective somehow personally offended by the fact that Ruth still wears make-up and leaves the house in the wake of the tragedy. I’m assuming this is an intentionally infuriating feature of Little Deaths, helping the reader to sympathise with Ruth even as everyone around her decides she’s guilty. Although, as I’ve said, I don’t read much crime fiction, this book did remind me of the court case-based books I read as a teenager, like the many John Grishams I used to take on holiday or something like Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra. The “who dunnit?” element of Little Deaths is, I think, really well-executed, and the reader gets to play detective along with the damn patriarchy of the NYPD.
There were some elements of Little Deaths which I didn’t love. I think the reason I tend not to read books like this is the reliance on cliche, and I did think that was something of n issue here. For example, a young reporter sees the case as his big break, becoming gradually obsessed with Ruth, and I thought this was a bit too obvious for a novel which is very good when its more occupied with subtlety. The gossipy neighbours were a bit clichéd as well, although not in such an annoying way.
In Conclusion: I was quite absorbed in Little Deaths, reading it in two sittings because I felt compelled to find out how the investigation was resolved. I’d definitely recommend it as a relatively easy but intriguing crime novel. I don’t think it beats any of the other books from the Baileys shortlist that I’ve read so far, but it’s worth a read.