April is almost over and May is just around the corner. It seems only right that I start this final month of spring with the aptly titled The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude.
This book tells the story of two cousins named Ivy and Heather. Teenagers, who have grown up in the somewhat isolated community of Rowan’s Glen in the Missouri Ozarks. The two cousins are growing apart and it isn’t helped with Heather’s new boyfriend or the resurgence of the town boogeyman, Birch Markle. Then Heather is anointed May Queen, a title that comes with a sorted past, and later found dead. It is up to Ivy to uncover what happened to her cousin and former best friend, unearthing secrets that may be best kept hidden.
This book was hard to get into and I think it was mostly because it’s set in a place that seems almost alien to me. At first, I thought the community where Ivy and Heather lived was really isolated but as the book progressed it seemed like they were more connected to the nearby town than the first few pages let on. I spent the first two-fifths of the book scratching my head, trying to root the morals, ethics, and off-beat traditions of Rowan’s Glen in my mind.
It seemed like since the story was told from Ivy’s perspective, from a girl who loved the Glen that I should be more connected to it. Through Ivy’s voice I got enough of the traditions to give me an idea of their way of life, but I wanted a sense of where they were, how it was structured, and exactly how big it was.
I think that a part of this is because of the first person narration, which left me feeling isolated as a reader. Isolation and identity are all issues that come up in The May Queen Murders, but Ivy seems too fixated on Heather and Rook to give us any information about the Glen, it’s population, and the mythos surrounding it.
Although I enjoyed Ivy’s journey throughout the book, I wasn’t sure why she had to be in the Missouri Ozarks in an isolated community when this could have easily been any small farming town in America.
The unique characteristics of the setting Jude describes are lost by this narrow view and while I loved the way the plot unfolded, if this had been any other book at any other time, I would have bailed. I felt like I was reading a book that wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a romance or a thriller, and as a result left me confused.
I also wish we had gotten a bit more of Heather and Ivy’s relationship. We got some their friendship in the beginning and then almost half the book before her murder actually happens. It is no secret that it is going to happen given the title of the book, so it seems like a lot of long-winded exposition to get to the heart of what the story is about.
There is also a story within a story concerning Terra MacAvoy, another May Queen that was murdered years ago. I wish we had gotten some first person accounts of what she was like as well. I think that would have increased the terror and the tension in the Glen.
I do however have an affinity for the Gothic novel. I love tales of ghosts and apparitions. The May Queen Murders is a book that if rife with signs and symbols. At times it seems overwrought, especially with death omens. Why do we needed heavy handed signs and portents to get us to the fact that there’s a murder coming? I think the author could have trusted her audience a little more without the repeating symbols.
Without giving too much away, the second half of the book is what kept me reading. Even though this book didn’t seem sure of what it wanted to be, in the end I walked away from the story liking Ivy.
The last quarter of the book does contain some graphic scenes and depictions that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who is squeamish. While the resolution is satisfying I think it would have been much more satisfying with a little more emphasis on characterization than plot.
Final Rating: 3 Stars