New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb will present a program on her Ballad novel “The Unquiet Grave” on Saturday, May 11 at 10 a.m. at the public library in Eagle Rock. “The Unquiet Grave” is a carefully researched retelling of a true West Virginia ghost story, in which an 1897 murder trial hinges on the testimony of a ghost.
The novel, published by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), tells the story of The Greenbrier Ghost of Greenbrier County, W.Va., as told in alternating voices by the victim’s mother, Mary Jane Heaster, and James P.D. Gardner, the African-American attorney who second-chaired the killer’s defense. The trial of Trout Shue is hailed as the only case in America in which a man was convicted of murder based on the testimony of his victim’s ghost.
“The Unquiet Grave” was the chosen selection for North Georgia Reads by the Georgia Public Library System, and as the All Conference Read for the West Virginia State Library Conference at the Greenbrier Resort in 2017. It was a Featured Alternate Selection of The Literary Guild.
Sharyn McCrumb, an award-winning Southern writer, is best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels, including the New York Times best sellers “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” “The Ballad of Frankie Silver,” and “The Songcatcher,” and “Ghost Riders,” which won the Wilma Dykeman Award for Literature from the East Tennessee Historical Society and the national Audie Award for Best Recorded Book.
Named a Virginia Woman of History by the Library of Virginia and a Woman of the Arts by the national organization of the Daughters of the American Revolution, McCrumb was awarded the Mary Hobson Prize for Arts & Letters in 2014. Her books have been named New York Times and Los Angeles Times Notable Books. In addition to presenting programs at universities, libraries, and other organizations throughout the U.S., McCrumb has taught a writers’ workshop in Paris, and served as writer-in-residence at King University in Tennessee, and at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York.
Unlike the previous accounts of the Greenbrier Ghost incident, which treated the story as folklore, McCrumb has thoroughly researched the story, using census materials, birth and death certificates, newspaper accounts, etc. to evoke the life and times of Zona Heaster in 1890s Greenbrier County. She made discoveries that no one has found before.
Using a century of genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb discovered new information about the story and in this book she brings to life the personalities in the trial: the prosecutor, a former Confederate cavalryman; the defense attorney, a pro-Union bridge burner, who nevertheless had owned slaves; and the mother of the murdered woman, who doggedly sticks to her ghost story— all seen through the eyes of a young black lawyer on the cusp of a new century, with his own tragedies yet to come.