The Red Bird Sings by Aoife Fitzpatrick | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Red Bird Sings by Aoife Fitzpatrick

The Red Bird Sings by Aoife Fitzpatrick is published with Virago on April 6th and has been described by The Times as ‘a sparkling, unusual novel that demands you turn the pages’.

There are two very impressive facts about this incredible book. One, is that it is written by an Irish writer. I would have immediately assumed, had I not known, that the author was American. The second fact is that this is a debut. Aoife Fitzpatrick has vividly brought her words alive, as they dance off the pages and transport us all to a small town in West Virginia in the late 1800s.

Zona Heaster Shue married quite impulsively leaving everyone a little stunned, in particular her best friend Lucy Frye. Her new husband, Edward ‘Trout’ Shue, was a blow-in, a blacksmith who had sauntered into town and settled in with the local community. As a blacksmith, Trout garnered much praise from many of his neighbours but Lucy never quite took to him. From the beginning she developed a strong distrust for his mannerisms and ways. There was something uneasy about how he treated Zona and Lucy was determined to get to the bottom of it. But in her attempts she failed as Zona slowly turned away from her, and from everyone else. Zona became quite institutionalised in her home over a very short period of time, and one day everything changed, when Zona was discovered dead at the bottom of her stairs.

Trout’s reaction was hysterical. He locked the doors immediately keeping everyone out. So distraught, the only person he briefly let in to get a mere glance at the body was the local doctor, who speedily agreed that the cause of death was ‘everlasting faint’. Lucy was at the scene and immediately felt something was off about the whole scenario. Lucy was convinced that Trout was guilty of Zona’s death but proving it was going to be difficult.

Lucy Frye had a desire to be a reporter but she kept getting refusals for her submissions, for reasons more related to her gender than the quality of her output. Lucy was more aligned to the edgier side of journalism and had no interest in stories with a more feminine angle. Lucy, a long-time friend of the Heasters, started her own private investigation into Zona’s death. She began to join the dots as she moved through the facts but it was Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, who put the cat among the pigeons when she claimed to have seen Zona in a vision and, like Lucy, was now adamant that Trout was guilty of murder.

The Red Bird Sings is the story of Lucy Frye and Mary Jane Heaster as they begin to unravel the truth. Mary Jane was always considered a little barmy by the locals and her visions were unsettling to many. Even her husband was embarrassed. No man in a position of justice would take her seriously, discounting her accusations as mere fabrications of a woman distraught with guilt. But Lucy and Mary Jane did eventually get their way and the trial of Edward ‘Trout’ Shue got under way in Greenbrier County, West Virginia in 1897.

The story of what happened next is truly extraordinary and went down in the annals of history as a unique and well documented case.

“A roadside marker along Route 60 still commemorates the case. It reads:

Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from ghost helped convict a murderer.” ( Ref American Hauntings)

The Red Bird Sings has been described as ‘a first novel of rare and dazzling brilliance…intricately researched and masterfully playing with the tropes of the Southern Gothic’ and this is all so true. Aoife Fitzpatrick has obviously scrutinised this case very closely bringing the period very much alive for the reader. There is a credibility attached to every carefully chosen word, an authenticity to every single description, with nothing spared in this stunningly expressive portrayal of a family ripped apart and of a mother’s love to protect her child, even from beyond the grave.

The-Red-Bird-Sings-by-Aoife-FitzpatrickThe Red Bird Sings is a masterful debut, an eloquent and dramatic tale, with its roots in a true story that is still as incredible now as it was over 100 years ago. A very compelling novel, this is not one to be missed!

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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