The Widows

Book 1 in the Kinship series

Available in hardcover, trade paperback and ebook

The Widows is a gripping historical mystery about two women whose lives collide when the man they both love is murdered.

When Lily Ross learns that her husband, Daniel Ross, the town’s widely respected sheriff, is killed while transporting a prisoner, she is devastated and vows to avenge his death.

But just hours after Daniel’s funeral, a stranger appears at Lily’s door: Marvena Whitcomb, a coal miner’s widow, is unaware that Daniel has been killed, and begs to speak with him about her missing daughter.

Soon Lily and Marvena realize that Daniel was not the man that either of them believed him to be—and that his murder is far more complex than either of them could have imagined.

Set in 1920s’ Ohio against the backdrop of coal mining, prohibition and women’s rights, The Widows is inspired by the true stories of two women: Maude Collins, the first female sheriff in the state of Ohio, whose husband died in the line of duty in 1925, and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the prominent labor and community organizer.

Read an excerpt
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Details about the inspiration behind the Kinship series, and the historical backdrop, are on my blog!


—Best of 2019, Aunt Agatha’s Mysteries
—Ohioana Fiction Finalist, 2020
—Ohioana Reader’s Choice Award (Fan Favorite) for Fiction, 2020
—Pulpwood Queens Book of the Year, 2019
—A Sun-Sentinel Best Mystery Book of 2019
—On the Goodreads List for most anticipated thrillers of 2019!

“Deeply felt…the feisty female protagonists do their real-life foremothers proud.”
Publishers Weekly

“Inspired by the true story of Maude Collins, Ohio’s first female sheriff, and prominent labor and community organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Montgomery’s debut novel features two tough-as-nails, strong-willed women whose empathy leaves a lasting impression. A simultaneous examination of women’s rights, coal mining, prohibition, and Appalachian life, make this a fantastic choice for historical fiction fans.”
Library Journal (Starred Review)

“An engaging debut… Vivid historical details, an intriguing mystery, and strong female characters.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Beautifully plotted and filled with believable characters, The Widows explores an era and an area struggling to be a part of the modern 20th century, yet constantly pulled backward to its unsettled past…the launch of this series shows much potential.”
AP News

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Barnes & NobleBooks a Million

“This amazing, thoroughly researched historical novel by debut author Jess Montgomery shows how love, determination, and courage can overcome bitterness, deceit, and violence. You’ll also learn how to make a rag rug.”
New York Journal of Books

“It’s an emotional tale—set alongside an equally emotional (and dangerous) struggle to unionize the town’s draconian coal-mining operation—but it feels accurate. Adding to the depth of the story is the absence of mustache-twirling bad guys or other easy caricatures. Instead, characters’ dark motivations are believable and authentic, rendering their choices fascinating and memorable, and making The Widows an all-the-more-effecting page-turner with a deep moral center and an unforgettable cast.”
Washington Independent Review of Books

“Remarkable…[Montgomery’s] writing is brisk, yet it lingers long enough to indulge readers with beautiful prose along the way.”

“Women’s and workers’ rights, Prohibition, and a murder mystery come together beautifully…The book is impossible to put down or forget.”
—Mystery Scene

“This is a well-written novel with suspense and mystery deftly woven into the history and struggles of an Appalachian mining community. The result is a gripping narrative with a vivid historical setting.”
—Historical Novel Society

“A powerful debut. Montgomery creates a layers, rich mystery that makes the most of its historical setting. Her prose is captivating and sharp…Fantastic.”
—Criminal Element

“A strong book about standing up for justice, despite the danger. I found myself engrossed with the story. The Widows is a book that I recommend warmly.”
—Fresh Fiction

“Jess Montgomery’s gorgeous writing can be just as dark and terrifying as a subterranean cave when the candle is snuffed out, but her prose can just as easily lead you to the surface for a gasp of air and a glimpse of blinding, beautiful sunlight. This is a powerful novel: a tale of loss, greed, and violence, and the story of two powerful women who refuse to stand down.”
—Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Ballad

“Set when coal was king and the Pinkertons its strikebreakers, The Widows is a gripping, beautifully written novel about two women avenging the murder of the man they both loved.”
―Hallie Ephron, New York Times bestselling author of You’ll Never Know, Dear

“In the hard-luck, homespun Appalachian town of Kinship, Ohio, in 1924, two strong women become unlikely comrades to solve a murder in this flinty, heartfelt mystery that sings of hawks and history, of coal mines and the urgent fight for social justice.”
―Julia Keller, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bone on Bone

“Two women, a murdered husband, and the secret life he lived. Set in Appalachian Ohio coal country in 1924, The Widows kept me on the edge of my seat. Jess Montgomery is a masterful storyteller. This is a novel about courage and the good hearts of women, and it builds, almost unbearably, to its stunning end.”
―Lee Martin, author of the Pulitzer Prize Finalist The Bright Forever

“With compassion and skill, Jess Montgomery deftly smashes stereotypes and puts a human face on the cost of coal mining in 1924 Appalachian Ohio. Rich with historical details, yet fast paced, The Widows revolves around a murder investigation. But it was the vivid voices of Lily Ross and Marvena Whitcomb that completely captivated my heart and kept me reading long into the night.”
―Ann Weisgarber, author of The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

“Pulling back the curtain on a time and place where women’s roles were too often overlooked, The Widows is full of characters who surprise those who underestimate them. A rich, empowering, and satisfying read.”
―Jessica Strawser, author of Not That I Could Tell

“You’ll be on the edge of your seat as Lily and Marvena fight for justice in a time and place where it hardly exists . . . they are heroes for every age…”
―Victoria Thompson, bestselling author of Murder on Trinity Place

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Awards & Recognition

  • Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District (MCAD) Artist Opportunity Grant (2018)
  • John E. Nance Writer in Residence at Thurber House (Columbus, Ohio) in 2014 (based on early chapters of The Widows)
  • Individual Excellence Award (2016) in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council (based on early chapters of The Widows)
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