Two Women Prove Their Mettle in Jess Montgomery’s ‘The Widows’ [REVIEW]

Coal mine

One of Ohio’s old coal mining facilities located in the Glouster area in northern Athens County. (Photo courtesy Southeast Ohio History Center)

One man. Two women. A lifetime of secrets. Step back in time nearly a century to a small town where nothing is what it seems and everyone is suspect. Meet Jess Montgomery’s The Widows.

Jess Montgomery's THE WIDOWS

Minotaur Books

Daniel Ross is a respected man and the sheriff of Kinship, Ohio. But when he is killed transporting a prisoner, his wife Lily vows to avenge his death.

Overwhelmed with grief, she is surprised when a stranger appears at her door shortly after the funeral. Marvena Whitcomb is a miner’s widow, and now her daughter is missing and she’s desperate to talk to Daniel, only she doesn’t realize he’s dead.

The more they talk, the more they realize that Daniel wasn’t the man so many people thought him to be. Now they must join forces to uncover the truth—and to find out the real reason behind his murder.

Inspired by the true story behind Ohio’s first female sheriff, this debut novel reveals the true power of a woman and the strength she needs to tackle the corruption at the heart of a community.

As a boy, my life was touched by coal mining when my family lived in West Virginia in the early 1970s. Even then, decades after the action in The Widows takes place, we knew how the mines were both treacherous and vital to the mountain town we lived in. Although my own father had vowed never to work in the mines, we had plenty of friends who did, and despite coal being the backbone of Appalachia, it also took a toll on the lives of those who worked deep inside them.

With that knowledge, it is no wonder that The Widows had such a powerful impact on me. Montgomery portrays the setting vividly and writes about it with authority. But just as the miners we knew growing up taught us what it took to survive in that locale, coming home as they did from long days with only the whites of their eyes shining through from beneath the heavy black soot that coated them head to toe, the characters in this novel do the same for the reader. Here we meet union organizers, mine owners, a sheriff who is all too human, a terrifying villain who makes us tremble in our boots, as well as two feisty women who aren’t afraid to stand up to adversity (even when they probably should have been).

Yes, it is the rich characterization which makes this book a winner, and one which we highly recommend. It is on par with Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad, which was one of our favorite novels from 2017, and like that book, it serves to remind us how some Americans live and work, even now. Deftly told with Montgomery’s immersive storytelling skills and a journalist’s attention to detail, The Widows is a captivating tale bound to win her a loyal following for years to come.

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Jess Montgomery

Jess Montgomery
(Photo by JP Ball Photography)


Jess Montgomery is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Based on early chapters of The Widows, Jess was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus.

She lives in her native state of Ohio.

To find out more, visit the author at, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

By Jess Montgomery
336 pp. Minotaur Books. $26.99

TLC Book Tours Tour HostPurchase The Widows at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, IndieBound, and Powell’s.

The Widows is brought to you in association with TLC Book Tours.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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