The Widows by Jess Montgomery is inspired by the true story of Ohio’s first female sheriff. The story delves into how two woman fought greed and violence while overcoming the loss of a loved one.
The author noted, “This is a darker and deeper style of writing, much more than my other stories. For example, I examine the Pinkerton men and the violence they used. I read multiple books that talked about how these men would shoot up the striking camps. I put in the book a quote by one of the Pinkerton men, ‘A real war, and then, rule of law won’t matter. Those miners who resist, why, we’ll put ‘em down like rabid dogs.’”
The protagonists Lily and Marvena are based on the real-life historical figures of Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in Ohio, and Mother Jones, the famous activist and labor organizer. Sheriff Daniel Ross, the husband of Lily is murdered and no one knows by whom. Those powerful in the town want to pin it on a coal miner, Marvena’s brother. She has something in common with Lily since she lost her husband in a coal mining accident. Because the mine owners think she will be easy to control Lily is appointed sheriff pending the next election. But having a mind of her own and a sense of justice she partners with Marvena to find the elusive murderer and the missing daughter.
“I wrote both Lily and Marvena as tough. Lily is sensitive but is also a protector who wants to support her community. She keeps her emotions close to her heart. Marvena is fierce and persistent, but also has a tender streak. Although both women were wary of each other at first, they have a common goal to find out what happened. They end up with a strong friendship and recognize that each is balancing their own demons.”
Readers might be curious as to what is real and what is fiction. Montgomery commented, “In real life Collins had five children, and the person who killed her husband was known. I decided it would be interesting to have Lily take the sheriff position to find out who killed her husband. The similarity is that both women lost their husbands in the line of duty, both were appointed sheriff, and both were elected. The differences: Lily is eight years younger than Maude during that time period and she only had two children.”
Historical facts are intertwined in this novel that also has strong female characters and an intriguing mystery. Readers get a glimpse into the 1920s-coal mining town in Appalachian Ohio as the author examines women’s rights, prohibition, and the life of a coal miner.