Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Romance
Narrative Style: Third person, changes between two time frames
Synopsis: The locals of Barkley Cove call Kya the Marsh Girl. She has lived there alone, abandoned by her family, one by one. She is an outsider and they do not trust her so when local man, Chase Andrews, is murdered all eyes turn to her. Owens gives us two parallel time lines – the story of Kya’s abandonment starting in 1952 and the police investigation in 1969-70.
Time on shelf: Not very long. I saw that a lot of people seemed to be reading this and liking it so when it came up on my Kindle daily deal email in November, I bought it.
I started out quite liking this book. The early chapters describing Kya’s childhood were touching. The novel starts with Kya’s mother walking away from their shack in the marshes. Kya never understands why her mother has left and cannot believe that she will not come back. Next, her brother Jodie leaves, leaving Kya with her alcoholic, aggressive father. It was compelling and I couldn’t help but worry about what might happen to her.
The love story between Tate and Kya was also touching. It started with Tate leaving feathers for her. He has to slowly build Kya’s trust. It is sweet and innocent. The writing was often quite beautiful here. The descriptions of nature and of life in the marsh were the best part of this book. Tate encourages Kya’s love of nature and teaches her to read. Later, he helps her find a publisher for her drawings and descriptions of the the wildlife and nature of the swamp. I wasn’t 100% convinced by this part of the storyline but I liked the idea of Kya being self-taught and independent. It fitted with her character.
Tate goes away to study and, although he loves Kya, he believes she will never leave the marsh and they will never be able to have a normal life so he too abandons her. Enter Chase Andrews, a more worldly man – clearly meant to be a direct contrast with Tate’s sweetness – who persuades Kya to trust him with wild promises he has no intention of keeping. He keeps seeing other women, indeed he plans to get married, while he is seeing Kya. When Kya finds out that he is engaged to someone else, she refuses to see him. He does not take this well and he attacks Kya, attempting to rape her. She manages to get away but she knows that he will not rest until he has exerted his will over her. As these details are revealed, they give the reader just enough reasonable doubt about Kya to wonder whether or not she did it. And, of course, there were other questions as well – did she do it in self self defence for example.
If all the novel had been like this, it would be fine but the parallel narrative of the police investigation in 1969/70 was not so convincing. The two detectives – sheriff Ed Jackson and his deputy, Joe – weren’t very well written. They were little more than their jobs for a start. They don’t stand out as characters in their own right. They don’t even have to do too much policing as people keep arriving to tell them things rather than them having to investigate. They, and the townspeople, are quite keen for Kya to have killed Chase so if any evidence suggested that she didn’t do it – such as when they realise that Kya was out of town on the night of the murder – they very quickly found a reason for her to still be a suspect.
The evidence builds and Kya is the only suspect so, after some difficulty, they arrest her. We then have the court case which presented evidence that is new to the reader. Some of this evidence seems patently ridiculous. The prosecution contend that Kya came back from Greenville, where she was meeting her publisher, by a late night bus, disguised as a boy, killed Chase and then got the bus back, this time disguised as an old woman. There were other equally preposterous details and I really thought I couldn’t believe that they were being put up as evidence. It was absurd. The bus was late. She didn’t have time to commit the crime. But still the police were still determined she did it. It was ridiculous.
She is found innocent. Of course. And she carries on with her life. Tate has come back into her life and they get together, both working in the marshes into their old age. No one ever found out who killed Chase. There were no other suspects. It was a mystery. And that was irritating. I thought we might never find out. However, after her death, Tate finds some of Kya’s things under the floorboards in their shack. He finds poems that Kya has written under the name of Amanda Hamilton (which, irritatingly, Kya has recited often throughout the novel), one of which describes Chase’s murder. He also finds Chase’s necklace, which Kya had given him, and which was missing from the body. So all those ridiculous things, the barely convincing evidence was true. I found this ending incredibly annoying and it tainted the whole book for me.
This could have been a powerful lesson about prejudice but as Kya was actually guilty of the crime, I’m not sure what point the writer was trying to make. Very disappointing.