BookBrowse Reviews Little Deaths by Emma Flint

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Little Deaths

by Emma Flint

Little Deaths by Emma Flint X
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 320 pages
    Oct 2017, 320 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
Buy This Book

About this Book



Inspired by a true story, Little Deaths is compelling literary crime fiction that explores the capacity for good and evil in us all.

Emma Flint's fine debut is all about smashing boundaries. Once upon a time, mysteries and noir novels were not considered literary fiction. While that boundary has already been broken – think Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose or Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union – how about the notion that true crime can cross over into literary fiction territory? Flint, a longtime fan of true crime stories, has succeeded in melding that genre into Little Deaths, a novel about a mother accused of murdering her children.

It's the mid-1960s and Ruth Malone becomes a single mom after she asks her husband Frank for a divorce. Such an act is all but unheard of in her middle class Queens (New York) neighborhood. Frank moves out, but not without promising to fight her for custody of their two children, five-year-old Frankie, Jr. and four-year-old Cindy. Ruth can't help it if she has a kind of Marilyn Monroe quality about her that attracts men. She makes no bones about relishing the attention. After all, if it gets her bigger tips in the bar where she waitresses at night, it helps to put food on the table for the kids.

So, yeah, she cheated on Frank. Yeah, she likes to dress in clothes that show off her body. And she never leaves the apartment without putting on her "face." Cindy admires her mom's beauty, "her powdered cheeks, her sooty lashes, the sticky cupid's bow of her lips… You look like a princess-lady," Cindy declares. But just because Ruth likes to entertain men, occasionally letting them sleep over, it doesn't mean she's not a good and loving mother. Frank wants to prove otherwise.

However, when the children disappear one stifling July day and are later found murdered, Frank is tender and supportive. And while both he and Ruth are still reeling from their sudden loss, the local police have already decided who killed the kids. Evidence? As one investigating officer puts it:

She don't look how a woman should look when her kids go missing. She works nights. Two little kids and she's a waitress in some goddamn bar…And the apartment was a mess – ton of empty liquor bottles in the trash…Turns out she's got a record as well. We've had guys from the station at that address a few times. Noise, drinking, all that.

Ruth's story unfolds in retrospect, as she recalls the events that put her behind bars. Another point of view comes from a tabloid reporter who's trying to curry favor with his editor by investigating the lurid story that will sell newspapers. In the big city for the first time, reporter Pete Wonicke sees Ruth through the eyes of her judgmental neighbors and the police, so it isn't hard to portray her as a potential suspect, and even better that she's a sexy one. But before long, Pete's small-town values impel him to put himself in Ruth's shoes. Soon he's just about the only one in the world who believes her claims of innocence. In fact, he begins a one-man campaign to prove her innocent of the double homicide, losing his job in the process.

While Ruth's story is richly textured, Flint's cop dialogue and courtroom scenes would feel right at home in a true crime novel. Little Deaths' plot structure and rhythm make it all work as chapters swing between points of view and time frames. My only reservation, which kept my rating at a 4, has to do with scene setting. If I didn't know that this is based on a true story that took place in 1965-6, I would've had a hard time guessing. A minor trade-off in a superb mystery.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review was originally published in February 2017, and has been updated for the October 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: An American Summer
    An American Summer
    by Alex Kotlowitz
    As a Chicagoan, I've become used to the most common reactions when I'm traveling and tell someone ...
  • Book Jacket: The Sun Is a Compass
    The Sun Is a Compass
    by Caroline Van Hemert
    Caroline Van Hemert fell in love with her future husband, Pat, in 2001, discovering they shared a ...
  • Book Jacket: Women Talking
    Women Talking
    by Miriam Toews
    Miriam Toews' Women Talking is a circadian novel, unfolding over a span of just a few hours and ...
  • Book Jacket: Confessions of an Innocent Man
    Confessions of an Innocent Man
    by David R. Dow
    It is circumstance that carries the wave that sweeps trendy Houston restaurateur Rafael Zhettah to ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    D-Day Girls
    by Sarah Rose

    The dramatic story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain's elite spy agency to help pave the way for Allied victory.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Courting Mr. Lincoln
    by Louis Bayard

    A master storyteller at the height of his powers, delivers a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

A masterpiece of storytelling, and a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Women Rowing North

The instant New York Times bestseller

A guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A B Penny A T U

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.