Summary and book reviews of Little Deaths by Emma Flint

Little Deaths

by Emma Flint

Little Deaths by Emma Flint
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

Inspired by a true story, Little Deaths, like celebrated novels by Sarah Waters and Megan Abbott, is compelling literary crime fiction that explores the capacity for good and evil in us all.

It's 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone - a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress - wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy's body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.'s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth.

As police investigate the murders, the detritus of Ruth's life is exposed. Seen through the eyes of the cops, the empty bourbon bottles and provocative clothing which litter her apartment, the piles of letters from countless men and Ruth's little black book of phone numbers, make her a drunk, a loose woman - and therefore a bad mother. The lead detective, a strict Catholic who believes women belong in the home, leaps to the obvious conclusion: facing divorce and a custody battle, Malone took her children's lives.

Pete Wonicke is a rookie tabloid reporter who finagles an assignment to cover the murders. Determined to make his name in the paper, he begins digging into the case. Pete's interest in the story develops into an obsession with Ruth, and he comes to believe there's something more to the woman whom prosecutors, the press, and the public have painted as a promiscuous femme fatale. Did Ruth Malone violently kill her own children, is she a victim of circumstance - or is there something more sinister at play?

5

No matter how she views the events after that first day, the day itself is always a long one in her mind. There were hours of waiting: in the morning, at home, before Cindy. And afterward at the police station, in anonymous rooms with plastic chairs where she was left alone with her grief and with the horror of it all. With no one to answer her worst fears about Frankie. And then hours of questions from them, and still no one would answer her, reassure her. They just kept asking the same questions again and again.

Devlin and another cop took turns. She answered mechanically. What did these questions matter, now? What did any of it matter now?

Finally, they let her go. Frank was in the foyer, pacing, his hand in his hair, waiting for her.

"Ruthie . . . oh God, Ruth."

She couldn't look at his soft, leaking face, so she let him fold her in his arms and sank against him, exhausted.

It was after eleven when they reached the apartment. He wanted to come in, to rehash all the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How would you describe the sense of place in Little Deaths and how does the novel present the world of 1960s New York?
  2. What were your first impressions of Ruth, and how did your opinion of her evolve throughout the book? Did you like her? How much d id you sympathise with her?
  3. To what extent did you feel Ruth was in control of her life? What pressures did you feel she was under from the other characters and – as a woman, and as a mother – from society as a whole?
  4. What did you make of Pete Wonicke and h is obsession with Ruth? How did you feel his version of events differed ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

Full Review Members Only (617 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Sharply rendered literary noir, compelling enough to forgive a slightly left-field resolution.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This stunning novel is less about whodunit than deeper social issues of motherhood, morals, and the kind of rush to judgment that can condemn someone long before the accused sees the inside of a courtroom.

Booklist

Starred Review. Compelling ... the closing scene is a jaw-dropper ... This is absolutely absorbing literary crime fiction, perfect for fans of Megan Abbott and Sarah Waters.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This accomplished debut novel will intrigue fans of both true crime and noir fiction. Flint, a technical writer in London, is a welcome addition to the world of literary crime fiction. Readers of Megan Abbott may want to investigate.

Author Blurb Jeffery Deaver
A phenomenal achievement. Little Deaths is one of those so-very-rare accomplishments: a lightning fast, heart-pounding, psychologically resonant crime novel that effortlessly transcends genre. If you believed that literary fiction can't be a one-sitting read, think again.

Author Blurb Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl
Deeply moody and moving, Little Deaths embodies the role of women in the sixties, especially those who dared to deviate from societal norms.

Author Blurb Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me
Utterly atmospheric and with style to burn, Emma Flint's Little Deaths is a novel that troubles and transfixes from its simmering first pages all the way to its searing final words.

Author Blurb Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room, The Sandcastle Girls, and Midwives
Little Deaths is a rarity: a period piece and police procedural that is wrenching and real and deeply moving. I fell fast and hard under the spell of this lush, moody, film noir of a novel.

Reader Reviews

Sharon Mills

WOW wasn't expecting that ... absolutely loved it
An excellent debut. I thought I was in for just 'another psychological domestic thriller' in Emma Flint's debut novel 'Little Deaths', but I was pleasantly surprised. 'Little Deaths' is a well written, compelling, literary crime novel with a classic ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Roots of the True Crime Genre

Elm City Murder PamphletAs evidenced in her novel, Little Deaths, author Emma Flint is an aficionado of true crime. These books that chronicle the grim details of actual murders are written with a sensitive ear to readers' morbid curiosity about sensational crimes. The genre has been popular for centuries – people have long been willing to shell out cash to indulge the guilty pleasure of peeping into man's oldest and most heinous practice – murder.

Gutenberg may have had lofty ambitions for his game-changing printing press, but leave it to people to take a fine invention and test its limits by setting it to more and more profane purposes. It didn't take long before Gutenberg's press evolved (or devolved, depending on one's point of view) from printing...

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