A single mother of two children in 1965 Queens, New York, faces the oppressive and narrow-minded world where a woman is judged harshly when she doesn’t fit into the norms of what society expects. Ruth Malone wakes one morning to find her two young children, Cindy and Frankie, gone. When the children are later found murdered, the police immediately focus on her. After all, her husband is gone, and she is a cocktail waitress. What about the liquor bottles in the trash, the way she dresses, and the men she sees? The neighbors watch her every move and see she isn’t grieving as she should. The fact is Ruth is a single, beautiful woman with few options to support herself and her children. She loved her children dearly, worked tirelessly to care for them, and her grief is private and profound.
The detective on the case, Sergeant Devlin, is retiring soon, and it would be great if he went out with credit for solving such a high-profile case. He is determined to make a case against her. Maybe she didn’t do it, but she is guilty of loose morals and failing to protect those two innocent children. The Herald reporter assigned to the story, Pete Wonicke, is pressured to write about the case the way his editor wants, slanting the facts to fit what Sergeant Devlin wants them to be, but his conscience has him leave his job to do his own investigation. Inevitably she is arrested and tried for the crime, which is no spoiler since the book begins with her in prison.
I loved this book and its portrayal of 1960s society. I had just finished it and was thrilled to see it long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is a wonderful read and suspenseful throughout. The question remains until the end: was she a victim of a judging society, or did she kill her children? If she didn’t, then who did?