Somehow, “The Echoes” seems a softer story than the first three novels in this fabulous historical fiction series about a woman sheriff and the problems she encounters in the rural Ohio county she protects at the start of the last century. While there are crimes in this story, the focus is on the people who live in this part of Bronwyn County, Ohio. It’s July, 1928, and both the weather and emotions are running hot. The narration is in third person, and author Jess Montgomery shares both Sheriff Lily Ross and her mother, Beulah’s points of view. Each is clearly labeled. Both women are widows, and Lily’s mother had a late-in-life child who is the same age as one of Lily’s children. What Lily does not know at the start of this story is that her mother has arranged for Lily’s brother’s child, Esmé, who was born in France during WWI, to come to live with them.
Roger, Lily’s brother, died in the war. And while Beulah has known about the child’s existence for several years, she’s never told Lily. The time wasn’t right; she didn’t want to worry Lily; there were many excuses. But now the child is due to arrive in a few days, and Lily must be told. We meet Esmé at the start of the story as she is attempting to escape from steerage and sneak into the upper deck so she can see the Statue of Liberty as they arrive into the New York harbor. She is not successful in her efforts, but we learn a bit about her independence and her spunk.
Then the action returns to Lily as an older woman arrives at Lily’s farm and tells her about a woman floating in a pond, dead. As it turns out, there is no woman in the pond, but Mrs. Fitzpatrick has had visions before, and all too soon, her vision does, indeed, come to pass. But in the meantime, we are introduced to the many characters whose actions and relationships make up this complex story. Unlike past books in this series, there is no mention of organized crime or Prohibition. This story is about the people who live in this rural area of Ohio, their prejudices, their struggles, and their ties to each other. We meet one woman who is nursing the child of another to earn extra money as her husband has not been able to find employment, and they have many children of their own to support. We meet the well-to-do mill owner who decides to create an amusement park and name it in honor of Roger, Lily’s brother. We also meet his extended family, including the unsavory relatives who remain angry and jealous that his ancestors were more business savvy than theirs. All these characters, of course, are part of the intricate plot that Montgomery has woven.
We don’t know what has happened to Esmé when she doesn’t appear as expected. We don’t know who killed the woman found floating in the pond. We don’t know how the emotions and liaisons of various characters play into the mysteries. There is a lot happening, and readers will need to pay careful attention if they have any hope of catching the carefully placed clues about what is really going on under the surface.
In addition to creating main characters who are likable and realistic, Montgomery is at her best when using powerful imagery to describe simple events. The day turning to night, darkness falling, turns into passages we read and feel as if we are there, breathing in the scents of night, hearing the sounds of owls and crickets, seeing the “velvety deep violet” night sky. Such prose is calming, and by necessity we pause, and let our imaginations wander to that corner of Ohio where nature is beautiful.
While this book can serve as a stand alone novel, Montgomery does add layer upon layer of character development with each book in the series, so readers who enjoy historical fiction, strong female main characters, and a touch of mystery, will want to start with the first book in the series, “The Widows.” And that book, in a way, echoes the theme that runs throughout the series, which is about how strong women dealt with the misogyny and prejudice and downright lack of equality women in the early twentieth century experienced.
Start the series with “The Widows,” and continue with “The Hollows,” and “The Stills.”
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.