Little Deaths, a debut novel by Emma Flint, is a mystery crime thriller inspired by a true story (Alice Crimmins case). Flint mentions two books in the acknowledgments which were also inspired by the Alice Crimmins case, The Alice Crimmins Case by Kenneth Gross, and Ordeal by Trial by George Carpozi Jr. Little Deaths is a new book published in 2017 by Hachette Books.
We learn a lot about the main character, Ruth Malone, in the first chapter. She is telling us how much life has changed now that she’s in prison.
First chapter, first paragraph:
“On the rare nights that she sleeps, she is back in the skin of the woman from before.
Then: she rarely slept neat in a nightgown, pillows plumped, face shining with cold cream. She sometimes woke in a rumpled bed with a snoring figure beside her; more often she woke alone on the sofa with near-empty bottles and near-full ashtrays, her skin clogged with stale smoke and yesterday’s makeup, her body tender, her mind empty. She would sit up, wincing, aware of the ache in her neck and of the sad, sour taste in her mouth.
Now she wakes, not with the thickness of a headache or the softness of a blurred night behind her, but with forced clarity. Her days begin with a bell, with harsh voices, clanging metal, yelling. With the throat-scraping smells of bleach and urine. There’s no room in these mornings for memories.”
Ruth Malone used to be a cocktail waitress living in Queens, New York, 1965. She was recently separated from her husband, Frank, and was struggling to take care of her two kids Frankie (almost six years old) and Cindy (four years old). Ruth was a poor, proud woman who felt like she’s had a harder life than anyone else. She wears too much makeup, moves in a sexy, smooth way that enabled her to get almost any guy she wanted. Ruth cheated on her husband, with Lou Gallagher, and was also sleeping around with Johnny Salcito. Lou was using her as arm candy, while Johnny was madly in love with her.
Ruth and her kids lived in a cramped apartment building neighborhood with lots of nosy women like Carla Bonelli on the third floor, Sally Burke’s prying mother in the next building, and Nina Lombardo next door.
At times I loved Ruth for her spit-fire attitude, but most of the time I disliked her choices, especially how she put herself before her children. For example, she kept their bedroom door latched at night (claiming it’s for their safety), and doesn’t unlatch it until she has gotten dressed, had coffee, a smoke, and walked the dog Minnie. On July 14th, the day everything changed, it was 9:10am by the time she unlatched the kid’s bedroom door. I have two kids, and I can’t even imagine doing that. When my eyes open in the morning my first thought for the past ten years is to check on my kids.
“And the sight of her hand in front of her, lifting the latch, pushing the door. And again, and again, every moment since: the slow sweep of the white-painted wood, and the widening expanse of light, and her hand falling to her side through the weight of the still air, and her voice catching in her dry throat. And the room beyond. Empty.” (page 21)
When her kids are reported missing, Sergeant Devlin and his noobie partner Detective Quinn immediately blame Ruth, and become obsessed trying to discover evidence to prove her guilt.
Pete Wonicke, one of the newer journalists writing for The Herald, scores the missing children story thanks to his quick-thinking. Pete’s boss Friedmann instructs him to ignore the truth and write the story that readers want to hear.
“”Readers want three things, Wonicke.” He ticket them off on his fingers. “They want to see the money. Or the lack of it. To feel envious, or superior.”
Another finger, bent back. “They want sex. There’s always a hot dame. Or a dame we can work up into hot. There’s always an angle we can use.”
A third finger. “And every story needs a bad guy. Every story needs fear.”
On the day children go missing at 1:30pm, little Cindy is found dead. On July 25 Frankie is found dead. And we begin to believe that maybe Sergeant Devlin was right. Maybe Ruth did kill her children.
Over the next three months the cops and Pete follow Ruth’s every move. The cops are trying to find that final piece of evidence that will allow them to make an arrest. Pete is talking to everyone who every knew her, her ex husband Frank, or her lovers Lou and Johnny. He’s fallen madly in love with Ruth and believes she is innocent.
At the end of November, three months after her son is found dead, Ruth is arrested for the murders of her children and the trial begins. The courtroom proceedings are exciting, and surprising.
I whipped through the pages so fast wanting to know who did it. I constantly shifted back and forth on Ruth’s innocence. GREAT novel, my only complaint is that we don’t find out for sure who did it until the last ten pages. The ending felt quite rushed to me, and I would have liked another 30-50 pages for resolution.
If you like stories inspired by true crime, or mystery thrillers, you’ll love this quick read.