Little Deaths is inspired by the case of Alice Crimmins, whose two children went missing, and were later found brutally murdered. The detectives took one look at Alice Crimmins, who was wearing tight fitting clothes and large amounts of make up and disliked her on sight. So certain was the leading detective of her guilt that he didn’t bother to have the scene of the crime photographed or even take notes. It took two years to bring her to trial, during which the police harassed her and had her phone tapped, but Alice Crimmins had been found guilty in the press, by the public, and in the minds of the detectives long before then.
Emma Flint’s very impressive literary crime debut follows the case very closely. In the summer of 1965, Ruth Malone awakens one morning to find her children have gone missing. Very soon later, the body of her daughter Cindy is found, and a few days later, her son Frankie is also found dead. Sergeant Devlin, who is leading the enquiry is convinced of her guilt, so much so that he barely considers any other suspect, and when no evidence can be found to justify an arrest, begins a campaign of harassment against Ruth, sabotaging her job prospects, tapping her phone, and having her followed.
Half the story is narrated from Ruth Malone’s perspective, even though the third person narrator keeps us at arm’s length. Trying to cope with her grief, and the tragic loss of her children, she watches aghast as the police misinterpret everything she does, when she does not fit how a grieving mother ought to act. The rest is narrated by Pete Wonicke, a junior reporter who sees this as his big break. He too initially convicts Ruth in his mind, but becomes increasingly uneasy watching Devlin pursue his vendetta against Ruth, tampering and destroying evidence to make his story fit. His interest turns into obsession, and in a discomfiting mirror image of Devlin, he too becomes obsessed with Ruth, following her more than journalist would need to.
Emma Flint effectively racks up the tension, as the net closes around Ruth, with even the men apparently on her side harbouring ulterior motives. And whilst the deaths of Alice Crimmins’ children were never solved, Little Deaths is given an interesting conclusion which hammers home the collusion of men against women.
Little Deaths is a book about Ruth Malone, about the effect she has on men: irrational hatred from Devlin to obsessive desire from her estranged husband and Wonicke, lust from countless others – and Ruth herself, caught in the middle, coping with the tragedy as best she can, and trying – not quite managing – to live her life to the full.
Little Deaths by Emma Flint is out now, published by Mantle.