Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.
It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York, shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.
It’s every mother’s worst nightmare. But Ruth Malone is not like other mothers . . .
Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to the obvious conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation.
Covering the story as his first big assignment, reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press, and the underbelly of the city he now calls home. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.
Ruth Malone is mesmerising, challenging and unknowable: is she really capable of murder?
EMMA TALKS ABOUT LITTE DEATHS
An interview with Emma at Foyles, Charing Cross Road.
Little Deaths is available now from Foyles online.
He said her name out loud and it tasted like chocolate on his lips. Chocolate with something sharp and hot beneath, like a dessert with a good slug of brandy.
CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR LITTLE DEATHS
Longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of the year
Longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize
Washington Post: Ten Best Thrillers and Mysteries of 2017
Publishers Weekly: Best Books of 2017
Barnes & Noble: Best Books of the Year
The Guardian: Best Crime Books and Thrillers of 2017
The Irish Times: Best Crime Books of 2017
The Irish Times: Readers’ Books of 2017 Poll
LitHub: Best Crime Books of 2017
Dead Good Books: 20 authors pick the best crime novels of 2017
BuzzFeed: This Year’s Best Reads
Reading Groups for Everyone: Best Debuts of 2017
“Steaming with the heat of a New York July, Little Deaths is redolent of 60s noir…(a)fascinating debut.”
Thriller of the month: The Observer.
“An excellent debut.”
BOOK OF THE MONTH: The Times
“Exceptional writing by a first-timer.”
Our January Picks: The Sunday Times
“…a subtle portrait of a woman in extremis, and of the men who judge her.”
The Times Literary Supplement
The best new books in 2017
“Emma Flint’s Little Deaths convinces as a meticulously detailed period piece, a searching exploration of sexual hypocrisy and a twisty and enthralling murder mystery…It’s an absorbing, seductive read; I absolutely loved it.”
The Irish Times
Book Review: Little Deaths by Emma Flint is mesmerizing
The Washington Post
“…spellbinding, beautifully written and very moving.”
13 Books You Need To Read In January 2017
Pick of the best new books in 2017
The most anticipated books of 2017
“Utterly atmospheric and with style to burn, Emma Flint’s Little Deaths is a novel that troubles and transfixes from its simmering first pages all the way to its searing final words.”
Megan Abbott, bestselling author of The End of Everything, Dare Me, Fever, and You Will Know Me.
“A phenomenal achievement. Little Deaths is one of those so-very-rare accomplishments: a lightning fast, heart-pounding, psychologically resonant crime novel that effortlessly transcends genre. If you believed that literary fiction can’t be a one-sitting read, think again.”
Jeffrey Deaver, international bestselling author of over thirty novels.
“Little Deaths is a rarity: a period piece and police procedural that is wrenching and real and deeply moving. I fell fast and hard under the spell of this lush, moody, film noir of a novel.”
Chris Bohjalian, author of The Guest Room, The Sandcastle Girls, and Midwives.
“Involving and atmospheric, and immensely gripping.”
Sophie Hannah, internationally bestselling writer, published in 32 languages and 51 territories.
“An absolutely gripping debut. Emma Flint spins a lyrical tale of horror and suspense in the vivid and thick atmosphere of 1965 Queens. Even after I finished, the story would not leave me. I cannot wait to read more from this talented author.”
Beth Harbison, New York Times bestselling author of Shoe Addicts Anonymous.
“Emma Flint’s Little Deaths beguiles readers with a most harrowing crime: two children dead, their mother, Ruth, the likely suspect. Readers will as easily pity Ruth as doubt and denounce her, as Flint seduces us with a gem of a whodunit, making us question our every instinct. Deeply moody and moving, Little Deaths embodies the role of women in the sixties, especially those who dared to deviate from societal norms.”
Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl and Pretty Baby.
“Little Deaths is a stunning feat . . . Ruth Malone’s descent into hell is written with the pace of a thriller and the rich detail of a historical novel.”
Jane Casey, author of the Maeve Kerrigan series of crime novels.
“I loved Little Deaths. Ruth is an unforgettable character and I can see the movie in my head now.”
Sam Baker, author of The Woman Who Ran and co-founder of The Pool.
“Completely engrossing and beautifully written.”
Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act Of Love.
“This portrait of cocktail waitress Ruth Malone, who may or may not be guilty of the murder of her two young children, had me pinned to my sofa as the tension ratcheted up to almost unbearable levels. Murder, sex and obsession married with flawless writing and a tight, fast-paced narrative that doesn’t let up make an impressive top notch debut.”
Fanny Blake, author of House Of Dreams and Women Of A Dangerous Age, Books Editor of Woman & Home.
“I couldn’t put it down . . . So utterly satisfying, intriguing and brilliant that everything else falls short. I can’t wait for Emma Flint’s next book.”
Emma Chapman, author of How To Be A Good Wife.
“Little Deaths is a thing of beauty and wonder. Gripping and shattering. Ruth’s story will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Erin Kelly, author of The Poison Tree and Burning Air.
“A gripping read that is at the same time deeply real. A beautifully written and realised debut. I absolutely loved it.”
Kate Hamer, author of The Girl in the Red Coat.
“Her writing is by turns gutsy, involving and vivid. The story left an overwhelmingly poignant impression on me…a wonderful book.”
Janet Ellis, author of The Butcher’s Hook.
“Compelling . . . the closing scene is a jaw-dropper . . . This is absolutely absorbing literary crime fiction, perfect for fans of Megan Abbott and Sarah Waters.”
Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
“(An) affecting, achingly beautiful debut…This stunning novel is less about whodunit than deeper social mores of motherhood, morals, and the kind of rush to judgment that can condemn someone long before the accused sees the inside of a courtroom.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“This accomplished debut novel will intrigue fans of both true crime and noir fiction. Flint…is a welcome addition to the world of literary crime fiction. Readers of Megan Abbott may want to investigate.”
Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“For me, Little Deaths was a marvel of a novel. Poignant, thought-provoking, beautifully written and engaging…Literary crime with a dash of eloquence and a story rooted in the truths we don’t like to think about.”
“Enraging. A novel that speaks to your head and heart. Best crime of the new year.”
Staff review, Waterstones Piccadilly, London
“Emma Flint has captured a classic crime noir feel with this novel…It’s a dark, gritty and compelling tale that kept me gripped. The atmosphere of a sticky, hot, claustrophobic New York neighbourhood was vividly drawn and the judgements of the media, police and public will cause your blood to boil…I highly recommend if you want something fresh, intense and full of atmosphere.”
“A taut and tantalizing thriller…Emma Flint is gifted in describing the people and atmosphere of the tenements and closely-knit neighborhoods where everyone looked out for (and knew everything about) each other….I recommend this for anyone who enjoys a multi-layered psychological story with strong and engaging characters.”
Linda Schaefer, The Learned Owl Book Shop (Hudson, OH)
“There’s one in every community. Ruth Malone was called that woman. Her dresses were too short, too tight; she wore too much make-up; she was divorced. When her two young children go missing and turn up murdered, everyone assumes the worst. Ruth must fight with condemning neighbors, an obsessed police detective, a sensationalist reporter, a solicitous ex-husband, and her own self-doubt while trying to convince everyone of her innocence. Emma Flint has written a penetrating novel right out of today’s headlines. Her command of everyday nuances and human weaknesses makes this both a captivating read and a searing look at today’s condemning mindset. With an ending that will shock and dismay, Little Deaths is a must-read.”
Nancy L Simpson-Brice, Book Vault (Oskaloosa, IA)
“Great first novel by Emma Flint! The story-line and perspectives are like none I have ever read…If Flint continues to write like she did in Little Deaths, she will be one of the great authors people tell their friends about.”
Bookworm Tri-Cities (Kennewick, WA)
“…Emma Flint’s Little Deaths drew me in with the plot, but kept me reading for Flint’s compelling depiction of misogyny showcased by her (possible) antagonist, Ruth Malone….Flint gives us two narrators that are not to be trusted, each for reasons of their own, and a story of devastations that weave themselves together. This book is not simply a thriller, but a provocative take on motherhood and sacrifice; jealousy and love; obsession and devotion.”
Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)
“…Flint tells a compelling whodunit, based on true events, and I was riveted from page one. A literary thriller that will have you parked in your reading chair until you turn the last page.”
Sarah Harmuth Letke, Redbery Books (Cable, WI)
“Wow. What a great read. This book will be on the bestseller list for many months and I predict there will be a bidding war for the movie rights. I love the noirish (is that a word?) feel of this book. It reminded me of an east coast version of L.A. Confidential…Loved it!”
Marya Johnston, Out West Books, Grand Junction, CO
“This is the kind of book that you know after three paragraphs you’re not going to be able to put down. When I fall for a writer, I fall hard and this was love at first read…I was totally transfixed.”
On The Shelf Books
Listen to a sample of little deaths
Little Deaths is narrated jointly by Lauren Fortgang and Graham Halstead. We chose to use male and female narrators because the story is told through two perspectives, those of Ruth Malone and Pete Wonicke.
Lauren Fortgang trained at A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory and is a graduate of Fordham University: College at Lincoln Center, where she majored in theatre.
Graham Halstead trained at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting at NYU, at RADA, and was part of the Old Vic New Voices US / UK exchange in 2011.
…the snow fell gently on her flushed skin. She opened her mouth and let the soft snowflakes come, and she tasted each one as it melted in a cold kiss.
…grief came to her as heaviness. It came as a stone in her throat, preventing her from swallowing; as a pressure behind her eyes, forcing out tears; as a weight in her stomach.
from true crime to fiction (may contain spoilers)
I first read about the real Ruth Malone when I was sixteen. The details stayed with me until, twenty years later and casting around for a story, I remembered hers. I spent a couple of hours on the internet until I had the facts clear and a number of photos of her, and then I started to write. I had the first 6,000 words down on paper that afternoon, and some of what I captured that day is now part of the first chapter, almost word for word as I first wrote it. My fascination with Ruth and my determination to do justice to what happened to her and her children, gave me the motivation to keep working on Little Deaths for six years.
Ruth, Frank, Lou Gallagher, Johnny Salcito, Lena Gobek, and the children are based on real people, but I’ve changed their names and embellished their characters with fictional details. Charlie Devlin is a composite of several of the officers involved in the initial investigation. Pete Wonicke, Friedmann, Horowitz, Gina and Bette are my own inventions.
The essential facts of the story remain the same: the real Ruth woke up one morning in the summer of 1965 to find her two young children missing from their apartment in Queens. Her four year-old daughter was found dead that afternoon; the body of her five year-old son was discovered a week later.
I’ve condensed the events between the murders and Ruth’s arrest into four months; in reality, the case stalled for over two years as two grand juries failed to indict her for murder. Then in November 1966, one of Ruth’s neighbours sent an anonymous note to the prosecutor’s office, saying she had witnessed relevant events on the night of the children’s disappearance. When interviewed by the police, she gave essentially the same story that Lena Gobek recounts on the witness stand in Little Deaths.
As a result, a third grand jury indicted Ruth, and in May 1968 she went on trial for the death of her daughter. As in the book, Ruth was betrayed in court by her long-term lover; his testimony that she told him she had killed the children, together with the eye-witness account of her neighbour, helped convince the jury of her guilt. Ruth was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to prison. In Little Deaths she is released on parole at the end of the book; in reality, she served only a few months and was released on appeal after it was discovered that some members of the jury had breached the court rules by visiting the neighborhood where Ruth and the children lived.
A new trial was ordered, and in 1971 Ruth was charged with the first-degree murder of her son, as well as the manslaughter of her daughter. Lena Gobek gave evidence again at this second trial, but her story was called into question by the testimony of a second witness, who appears in Little Deaths as Clyde Harrison. In reality, there’s no evidence that this witness was paid to testify, but I thought the coincidences in his story were too great not to warrant a backstory of their own.
Ruth was eventually convicted on the charges of murder and manslaughter, but again an appeal court ruled in her favour. The murder conviction that would have resulted in a life sentence was thrown out and ultimately Ruth served just over thirty months of prison time for manslaughter. The real Ruth was paroled in 1977 and married the man I recreated as Lou Gallagher.
Most of the other people involved in the case are now dead: Lou Gallagher died in 1998, Johnny Salcito in 2006 and Lena Gobek in 2009. Frank Malone remarried and relocated to Florida where he died in 2012, while the prosecutor I call Hirsch was still practising law in Queens in 2015.
Ruth herself has disappeared into obscurity. Despite efforts to contact her by other authors and by the media, she has refused to speak about the case publicly for almost 40 years and if still alive in 2017, she would be around 78 years old.
ABOUT THE TITLE
In a literal sense, the ‘little deaths’ of the title are the murders of Ruth’s young children, Frankie and Cindy.
The other obvious reference is to the French phrase la petite mort, which means a brief loss of consciousness, and in modern usage refers to the sensation of orgasm. Ruth uses sex as a means of deadening her emotions, and as a way of escape.
More widely, the phrase can refer to a short period of melancholy or transcendence. Roland Barthes used the idiom in this sense to describe the aim of reading literature: it should cause readers to lose themselves in the work.
The title also refers to what the main characters leave behind. By the end of the book, Ruth no longer needs a man to look after her or to admire her. Pete’s innocence has died: he stops toeing the line at work and being the reporter his editor wants him to be. He also sheds his old moral code, and comes to believe that justice is more important than integrity when he’s willing to lie to save Ruth from prison.