Long Black Veil
Once upon a time, in 1980, there were six friends, all college graduates. Two of them had just gotten married. A day after the wedding celebration, they decided to visit Philadelphia’s notorious and abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. They were accompanied by their German teacher and a young boy. Shortly upon entering, somebody locked them in, so they, in small groups of two or three, started wandering around. After some time they were saved by the police, but one of them --- Wailer, the bride --- was never found. Nonetheless, life went on, and the friends went their own separate ways, each of them changed by this terrifying incident.
Fast forward 35 years. The local authorities decide to refurbish the former penitentiary, and Wailer’s body is found. Her husband, Jon Casey, is the prime suspect, but things are far more complicated than they seem.
"LONG BLACK VEIL is simply magnificent; it is masterfully written and thrilling, and full of complex characters."
LONG BLACK VEIL is absolutely fantastic, and is so much more than the short summary above. A virtuosic mix of family drama, mystery and thriller, the novel centers on the remaining friends, thus enabling the reader to discover what has been going on with them in the years following the incident at the penitentiary. Then again, the main focus of the book is on the short period in the present, the timeframe in which Wailer’s body has been found until the service is organized for her.
In a first person narration, Judith Carrigan offers readers her account of transitioning, and of her youth full of struggle because she was always hiding something in order to be accepted. The other characters are each given third person omniscient perspectives, which injects plenty of suspense into the narrative. It must be emphasized that all of the secrets are revealed pretty early on (i.e. Judith’s secret, and how and why Wailer was murdered). However, these revelations are not what’s most crucial, for this is a highly atmospheric novel, and the anticipation of how the story will unfold is what’s most important.
Author Jennifer Finney Boylan knows of what she writes, as she talked about her own transitioning in her memoir, SHE’S NOT THERE. This storyline is beautifully incorporated into the book and resonates with a very strong message about fears, secrets and the past. LONG BLACK VEIL is simply magnificent; it is masterfully written and thrilling, and full of complex characters. Boylan shows how wrong decisions and stupid mistakes can cost us the future, but also how important it is not to live a lie. We should never hide our true self or our past from those who are closest to us.
Do yourself a favor and read LONG BLACK VEIL. It is a pure literary delight.
Reviewed by Dunja Bonacci Skenderovic on April 14, 2017