Widows by Jess Montgomery is inspired by the true story
of Ohio's first female sheriff. The story delves into how
two women 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
"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
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 as 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.