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The Echoes


The Echoes

THE ECHOES somehow seems to be a softer story than the first three installments of Jess Montgomery’s fabulous series about a sheriff and the problems she encounters in the rural Ohio county she protects at the start of the last century. While there are crimes here, the focus is on the people who live in this part of Bronwyn County.

It's July 1928, and both the weather and emotions are running hot. Montgomery shares the points of view of Sheriff Lily Ross and her mother, Beulah. Each is clearly labeled. Both women are widows, and Beulah 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 the novel is that her mother has arranged for her brother's child, Esmé, who was born in France during World War I, to come live with them.

"In addition to creating characters who are likable and realistic, Montgomery is at her best when using powerful imagery to describe simple events."

Roger, Lily's brother, died in the war. And while Beulah has known about Esmé’s existence for several years, Lily has been kept in the dark. There have been many excuses --- the time wasn't right; she didn't want to worry Lily --- 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 book 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 at New York Harbor. She is not successful in her efforts, but we learn a bit about her independence and spunk.

An older lady, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, informs Lily about a dead woman floating in a pond --- a vision that eventually comes to pass. But in the meantime, we are introduced to the many characters whose actions and relationships make up this complex story. Unlike previous books in the series, there is no mention of organized crime or Prohibition. This fourth entry is about the people who live in this rural area of Ohio --- their prejudices, struggles and ties to each other.

One woman 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. A well-to-do mill owner decides to create an amusement park and name it in honor of Roger. His extended family includes the unsavory relatives who remain angry and jealous that his ancestors were more business savvy than theirs. All of these characters 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 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 characters who are likable and realistic, Montgomery is at her best when using powerful imagery to describe simple events. When we read passages about the day turning into night, and darkness falling, we 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; by necessity we pause and let our imaginations wander to that corner of Ohio where nature is beautiful.

While THE ECHOES can serve as a stand-alone, Montgomery does add layer upon layer of character development as the series progresses. So those who enjoy historical fiction, strong female characters and a touch of mystery will want to start with the first book, THE WIDOWS. In a way, this opening installment echoes the theme that runs throughout the series --- how women dealt with the misogyny, prejudice and downright lack of equality that was prevalent in the early 20th century.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on April 1, 2022

The Echoes
by Jess Montgomery