Little Deaths, by Emma Flint

Shelf Indulgence review

Although set in a time well before social media as we know it today, this Shelf Indulgence subject demonstrates the power of the media to taint and condemn in criminal investigations. It’s a fictional tale inspired by the notorious real-life story of Alice Crimmins, whose two children vanished from their locked bedroom in the NYC Queens rental apartment, in July 1965, and were later found dead. In a trial by media, their mother, an attractive and sexually active woman of twenty-six, was found guilty in large part because of a perceived lack of feeling.

Alice Crimmins was jailed three times for the murders, her convictions overturned twice. The case remains a mystery to this day, but Flint takes the facts, and imagines the possibilities, reinterpreting the evidence, adding a dash of creative ‘what if?’ that makes this fictional account stand out. It’s a story of obsession, jealousy, and social injustice; a nuanced exploration of loss and loneliness and the difficulty of bringing up two young children as a single mother in 1960s New York. Fictional mother, Ruth, suffers unbearable scrutiny and is censured and ostracized by her peers in Flint’s sharply observed working class neighbourhood. Faced with police hostility and public disapproval that quickly turns to hatred, Ruth, bereaved and totally alone, tries to hold herself together. She is not an easy person to love, but as Flint gradually reveals the fragility beneath the mask, it’s hard not to sympathise.

A side-note for true-crime fans: I first encountered the Crimmins case in The Mammoth Book of Murder and Science. Edited by former Liverpool Echo reporter, Roger Wilkes, it provides insights into the Alice Crimmins case, as well as thirty-one others, dating from 1752 to 1986, all of which relied on forensic evidence.

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