Summary and book reviews of Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Long Black Veil

by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan X
Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp

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About this Book

Book Summary

For fans of The Secret History and The Poison Tree, a novel about a woman whose family and identity are threatened by the secrets of her past, from the New York Times bestselling author of She's Not There.

On a warm August night in 1980, six college students sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, looking for a thrill. With a pianist, a painter and a teacher among them, the friends are full of potential. But it's not long before they realize they are locked in - and not alone. When the friends get lost and separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy, and the unexpected, far-reaching consequences reverberate through the survivors' lives. As they go their separate ways, trying to move on, it becomes clear that their dark night in the prison has changed them all. Decades later, new evidence is found, and the dogged detective investigating the cold case charges one of them - celebrity chef Jon Casey - with murder. Only Casey's old friend Judith Carrigan can testify to his innocence.

But Judith is protecting long-held secrets of her own – secrets that, if brought to light, could destroy her career as a travel writer and tear her away from her fireman husband and teenage son. If she chooses to help Casey, she risks losing the life she has fought to build and the woman she has struggled to become. In any life that contains a "before" and an "after," how is it possible to live one life, not two?

Weaving deftly between 1980 and the present day, and told in an unforgettable voice, Long Black Veil is an intensely atmospheric thriller that explores the meaning of identity, loyalty, and love. Readers will hail this as Boylan's triumphant return to fiction.

Chapter 1

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

August 1980

This was a long time ago, before my first death, and none of us now are the people we were then. Instead we are ghosts: two of us dead, a third unrecognizable, a fourth suspected of murder. It would be easy enough at this hour to have contempt for those young selves, to focus instead on how much cleverer we have become here in the green pastures of the twenty-first century. But over the years I have come to believe that people are usually more deserving of forgiveness than judgment. This is not only because it's an act of grace; it's also because most men and women aren't afforded the luxury of dying more than once.

Unlike some people I could mention.

It was Rachel who got us out of our beds that hot August morning, even though our heads were still throbbing from the wedding the night before. But Rachel was a woman on a mission, and she'd decided she was going to take Quentin to see The Large Bathers by Cézanne, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
1. There are two trans characters in Long Black Veil, and their experiences are marked by generational differences. We see the anachronism of "going stealth" and reemerging as a new person juxtaposed with a fluidity of identity that we are thankfully beginning to take for granted. What factors do you feel have enabled this shift?

2. Long Black Veil opens with the characters entering the Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned, "haunted" prison in the heart of Philadelphia's city center. What parallels does the author make between being haunted and keeping secrets? Do you think that people are "imprisoned" by the secrets of their past?

3. Much of Long Black Veil centers on the meaning of identity and how it changes as we get ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The deftly told story doesn't fit into one specific box. It's a murder mystery, as well as an exploration of transgender identity. Told from multiple timelines and characters' point of view, as well as shifting between various geographic locations in the United States Northeast, it is also a thoughtful character study, contrasting who the characters were in their twenties against who they become thirty-five years later.   (Reviewed by Sarah Tomp).

Full Review (683 words).

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Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review
An existential whodunit about living with all your selves...To the author, the prison is more than a powerful setting, it's also a powerful symbol for the closeted life she once led.

Time magazine, Pick of the Month
Jennifer Finney Boylan’s atmospheric thriller Long Black Veil follows a travel writer tangled up in a cold case that has come back to haunt her decades later.

National Book Review
Boylan’s Long Black Veil is more than just an engrossing whodunit. It is a highly charged work of imagination, and a thriller with fully formed characters, grappling with truth and identity.

Maine Edge
Boylan’s latest is fast-paced and concise and exquisitely-written—a beautiful and captivating stampede.

The Oklahoman
Both a murder mystery and a contemplation of what it means to be true to yourself even when extreme measures seem necessary... It is a tale that is equal parts thrilling, scary, funny and touching, and not many authors can hit all those marks successfully in one piece of work.

Kirkus Reviews
Smart ideas, great characters, shaky storytelling.

Library Journal
Boylan's twisty and entertaining thriller takes a hard look at questions of identity, love, and trust. Recommended for fans of Megan Abbott and Donna Tartt.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [A] madcap thriller full of hidden identities…And embedded in the whodunit is a heartwarming midlife love story, in which hard-won candor, tenacity, and a generous sense of humor are the most saving of graces.

Booklist
Starred Review. Boylan, who has reaped praise in recent years with memoirs exploring her transgender experience, doesn't miss a storytelling beat in her first novel as she blends atmospheric elements of a Shirley Jackson–like haunting, a secret-laden murder tale featuring an ensemble cast, and an eye-opening glimpse of the complex choices transgender people face.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Nobody's Fool
This is Jennifer Finney Boylan's best book. It's one of the most eloquent pleas for empathy and moral imagination I've ever encountered.

Author Blurb Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time
Long after the last page is turned, you will be thinking about the nature of identity, the pull of the past, and whether you can ever outrun the person you used to be.

Author Blurb Mary Karr, New York Times bestselling author of Liar's Club, Lit and Cherry
Jennifer Finney Boylan rewards her fans with a riveting whodunit. The plot shapeshifts along with the unforgettable characters -including a woman whose family could be dismantled by her long-buried secrets. All this is rendered in Jenny's signature hilarious, wise and wise-assed prose. Bravo, Boylan, bring us another one!

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Beyond the Book

Eastern State Penitentiary

The catalyst for Long Black Veil takes place within the ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary, located in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now remade into a museum and identified as a National Historic Landmark, the former prison stood unattended and in shambles from its closing in 1971 until 1994.

The Eastern State Penitentiary The author cites a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary, "one of the most haunted locations in the world," as the inspiration for this novel.

Originally opened in 1829, the facility was conceived by a group of activists, including Benjamin Franklin, and was equipped with running water and central heat. Each cell was lit with a skylight, called an "Eye of God" window to allow the prisoners access to "light from Heaven." The ...

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