Long Black Veil is a difficult novel to get into because the author immediately introduces about eight characters known only by their first names – and since several of the first names are non-gender-specific nicknames, it is difficult even to be certain at first of the sex of some of the characters. I would suggest jotting down a note or two for each character as they are introduced as a way of maybe easing yourself into the story.
The story itself is about a group of misfits who become friends during their freshman year of college. And what misfits, they are. I’m trying hard here to think of one of the bunch that is even remotely normal, but I’m coming up empty. They were lucky to find each other and even luckier that the friendships endured for four years because not long after leaving school, one of them was dead under very mysterious circumstances, circumstances that ended the friendships.
The group’s fatal mistake is to visit an abandoned Philadelphia prison on a “dark and stormy night” during which someone decides to lock them inside. In the near-panic that followed, one of the girls, Wailer,” disappears and is never seen again – never seen again, that is, until thirty years later when someone discovers her remains where the body had been hidden all those years ago.
Now the pressure is on to figure out why Wailer died, who killed her, and who has been covering up the crime for so long. Is a member of the old group guilty? Will they turn on each other? Do others have to die before Wailer’s murder is finally solved?
Jennifer Finney Boylan is certainly not afraid to move her plot along, and in the process, she takes the reader on quite a ride. Just about the time you begin to believe that the plot has been stretched to its breaking point, Boylan stretches it even farther (but for some readers these additional stretches may be stretches too far to retain credibility). Long Black Veil makes for fun reading but it’s a hard novel to take very seriously. If this were a movie, it would probably be playing at your local drive-in theater…if you still have one of those around.