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10 April 2010
Review: THE MURDER BALLAD, Jane Hill
Random House Australia/ William Heinemann, Oct 2006
Maeve O'Mara marries Trey Ferguson, American singer, session musician, and composer, a bare seven weeks after meeting him. One of the types of songs that Trey likes to sing are 'murder ballads', grim songs from Scotland and Ireland about people killing their loved ones, usually down by a river. By the day of their registry office wedding, Maeve still knows almost nothing about Trey, in fact has just found out what his real name is. Theirs has been a whirlwind and sexually-charged romance. So much in love is she, that Maeve is more than willing to leave London where she has lived all her life and go to America with Trey.
Almost immediately after the wedding, the newlyweds go to live in Trey's family home tucked away in the American Appalachian Mountains, in Bodie's Hollow. There, in the house that was Trey's grandfather's, far from her friends and family, Maeve uncovers secrets more than twenty years old. She realises that she is far from home, married to a man she barely knows, who has told her almost nothing about his past.
We know right from the beginning that, in marrying Trey, Maeve is moving into danger. THE MURDER BALLAD is written in the first person, through Maeve's voice. When she meets Trey she is emotionally fragile as she recovering from the death of her fiance less than a year before. Maeve tells us that she should have been more cautious, more sensible, and that much of the subsequent events in the novel happen because of misunderstandings.
There is an almost gothic feeling about this story. There is a sense of foreboding, of momentous events to come, in a setting which Maeve herself refers to as "a kind of Appalachian Brigadoon". This certainly assists in heightening the tension in the story
I reviewed Jane Hill's debut novel GRIEVOUS ANGEL, and while I enjoyed that, I regard THE MURDER BALLAD more highly. I think it is a better written book, the threads are more tightly intertwined, and the final resolution is not revealed until the last pages. Hill again uses a flashback approach to weave the story, but there is less extraneous detail for the reader to remember. Jane Hill is an excellent story teller.
My rating: 4.6
Jane Hill is the director of programming for an award-winning group of commercial radio stations in the U.K., and previously worked as a radio journalist. She lives in Lincoln, England.
November 2006 Review first published on Murder and Mayhem