Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Long Black Veil

Jennifer Finney Boylan

Long Black Veil is an intensely atmospheric thriller that explores the meaning of identity, loyalty, and love. 

Access the hottest new Penguin Random House books months before they hit the shelves.

Sign In or Join Today


Sign me up to receive news about Jennifer Finney Boylan.

Place our blog button on your blog to let people know you are a member of this great program!

For fans of Donna Tartt and Megan Abbott, a novel about a woman whose family and identity are threatened by the secrets of her past, from the New York Times bestselling author of She's Not There

On a warm August night in 1980, six college students sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, looking for a thrill. With a pianist, a painter and a teacher among them, the friends are full of potential. But it’s not long before they realize they are locked in—and not alone. When the friends get lost and separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy, and the unexpected, far-reaching consequences reverberate through the survivors’ lives. As they go their separate ways, trying to move on, it becomes clear that their dark night in the prison has changed them all. Decades later, new evidence is found, and the dogged detective investigating the cold case charges one of them—celebrity chef Jon Casey— with murder. Only Casey’s old friend Judith Carrigan can testify to his innocence.

But Judith is protecting long-held secrets of her own – secrets that, if brought to light, could destroy her career as a travel writer and tear her away from her fireman husband and teenage son. If she chooses to help Casey, she risks losing the life she has fought to build and the woman she has struggled to become. In any life that contains a “before” and an “after,” how is it possible to live one life, not two?

Weaving deftly between 1980 and the present day, and told in an unforgettable voice, Long Black Veil is an intensely atmospheric thriller that explores the meaning of identity, loyalty, and love. Readers will hail this as Boylan’s triumphant return to fiction.

Advance Galley Reviews

As I was reading this book, I wasn't impressed. 6 friends are involved in an incident, an "accident" that turns them all into unhappy, disappointing, miserable people who have made bad choices throughout their lives. Even after 30 years they are stumbling through their loveless and unloved lives and no longer friends. When the accident turns out to be something more and the truth emerges about who did what and who knew what the former friends try to rectify their lives and the choices they made. Really, I wanted to smack them; none of them were likeable or sympathetic. I wasn't even interested in the mystery of it all. However, I'm glad I stuck it out until the end. It felt hopeful; justice was served, the friends were starting to put their lives together, the future looked much better. The writing is beautiful. Worth the read until the end

I found this book to be more of a character study and less of a mystery. While there is certainly a mystery element, some elements of suspense and thrilling moments, I found the "mystery" side less fulfilling and more as a side story to the character study that is explored on Judith's side of things. The contrast between the two plot lines is so stark that they could have been two different novels entirely. The tragedy that takes place within the prison is the catalyst for the character study of Judith and once her side of the story begins, the "mystery" element takes a back seat for the remainder of the novel. The writing is good, but not spectacular. I could follow the back-and-forth between the different characters well enough, but I can see how it would be difficult for readers who would want smoother transitions between the character chapters. This is especially true for when Judith is finally introduced - I had to re-read the passage two or three times before I understood what was happening. The resolution of the mystery is weak and is treated very poorly, as if, in the end, it didn't really matter, but it had to be finished because it was the main discussion point in the book summary. Judith is easily the most developed, three-dimensional character, but the other characters suffer from lack of equal character development time, leaving readers wondering about the time left unmentioned and the motivations of the other characters in general. Statements are made about the individual friends by other characters as if they are fact, not displayed by the character himself/herself when he/she is being personally examined. Readers are left only to take the character's word for it as there's no other proof to confirm that he/she said. The resolution to the novel is very fairytale-ish and the personal crisis that Judith goes through at the midway point of the novel is wrapped up almost too well and too quickly for my taste. Maybe if the story had been a character study from the start, I wouldn't have had this impression, but the mystery element had to be resolved so no more time could be spent on the personal crisis. The fate of some characters is also never resolved because they're never brought up again. For minor characters, this isn't a big deal, but two of the major characters have unresolved plot threads that aren't addressed. Overall, the book was interesting and it was a definite page-turner, but I think the treatment of the mystery element and some of the characters could have been improved.

In 1980, a group of college friends (and the 10 year old brother of one) makes a foray into Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned and falling apart structure. Once they are in, they discover that someone has chained the door shut behind them. This isn’t quite the way they wanted to continue celebrating the event of the day before: the marriage of two of their number. It turns even worse when the recent bride disappears… and doesn’t get found, not for a long time. Thirty five years later, a skeleton is found in the old prison, stuffed into a tunnel. This re-opens the police case; it’s now obvious it was a murder. Most of the group have alibis, but one, the widower, the one with the most obvious motive (her money), has no one to vouch for his whereabouts at the time of her death. One person cannot be questioned, having driven his car off an ocean cliff years ago. Meanwhile, in a separate narrative, a woman named Judith has been keeping a secret from everyone: her friends, her son, her husband. It’s a big secret, and she fears losing everyone if it comes out. She’s the one person who can save the Casey, the widower, but can she make herself take that huge risk? While we have a murder mystery for a framework, the story is really character driven. Judith is the one who comes most alive, but most of the others are well drawn and complex. I ended up loving a lot of the story, as the secrets drop away one by one.

I had a mixed experience with this book. It's an intriguing story that kept me turning the pages; I really wanted to know what had happened, and I liked the back-and-forth between past and present. However, I found many of the characters oddly written and hard to understand, and Wailer's "accent" was just awful! Overall,a good story let down slightly by weak characterization.

This is probably one of the better books I’ve read recently. There were certainly some very confusing parts of the story, in which either the storyline was too convoluted for me to follow or I couldn’t figure out who was talking, but overall Long Black Veil was definitely a solid book. Boylan’s writing was good; not excellent by any means, but good. Most of the phrases that I felt read oddly sort of added to the charm, and most of the facts that seemed unclearly described were made up for by the fast-paced plot. If I didn’t get anything the first time, it was easy to catch up later in the novel. I would say that the highlight of this book is how well it handles the lives of the characters, both when they were in college and in the present day. Long Black Veil is a book that I do highly recommend.

I received this book as an ARC from First To Read (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. There were a few surprises that I won't reveal here. But this book is about one incident that changes the lives of six college friends forever – how each of them carries that night with them as the years move forward and the choices they make as a result of it. And leaves one of them having to decide if she is willing to reveal her deepest secret and knowingly jeopardize the life she has built and potentially lose everything – all to save a friend.

I did enjoy this book. Didn't like the random back and forth. Wish we could have divulged more into the night at the prison. To me there was a lot left unsaid. The ending I wish had more as well. It was good but again I just wish there was more to certain story lines and some of the characters.

This book almost got confusing with the back and forth. In the beginning, I almost just put it down. I did read to the end and overall it is a good novel. The moral of the story is that we have to live with our choices, whatever they may be. We all long to be loved and even as adults, we can doubt ourselves and our choices. Thanks first to read!

I was really looking forward to reading this book since it is set in my hometown and one of the main "characters", Eastern State, is a landmark that I am familiar with. There is definitely mystery and intrigue with this book. At times there was too much jumping from one plot point to another and switching of the perspective (from first to third party) that at times I was confused as to which character/plot point we were. Overall, I did enjoy the story and I was able to get through the book fairly quickly.

I enjoyed thos book so much. It starts with a mystery, as a group of college friends in 1980 end up locked in Easter State Penitentiary. One of them goes missing. The specifics of that, and how it affects each of them, become the central story. At the same time, we get to explore the "after" through the eyes of Judith Carrigan. A wife and mother and journalist, she's also a trans woman who has kept her past from her family. This book is an incredible meditation on what it means to be yourself, to become yourself, to live your true life. There are sadly not enough stories where trans people play leading roles that don't exclusively focus on their transition. This book shines a light on what, for many people, must stay hidden. I enjoyed it so much.

As we get older, we tend to change. For some this change may be very drastic, yet for others it might not happen at all. Jennifer Finney Boylan's Long Black Veil demonstrates how one horrific night can affect the trajectory the rest of your life takes. Judith Carrigan has lived an enjoyable life since arriving in Maine decades ago, but her life before traveling north was troublesome and anxiety-inducing. In Judith's past is the disappearance and presumed death of her college friend Wailer while her group of friends were trapped within the walls of the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary. As a key witness to corroborate Wailer's husband Casey's innocence, Judith needs to come to terms with her identity and what she's willing to sacrifice to defend the truth. Having recently visited Eastern State Penitentiary in the fall of 2016, I found this aspect to the story rather interesting and well-described, with the remainder of Philly and the Main Line settings well-written as the familiar backdrops they are to me. The many characters were sketched out quite well; however, they didn't have much depth as there wasn't the time or space to fully do so and also focus on the suspense aspect to the plot, which was enjoyable, as well as the variety of social topics it addressed, which was interesting. I found it a bit strange that there were differences in the narrative perspective offered - Judith was given a first person perspective while all the others in the group were given third person omniscient perspective. While I understand that this story is Judith's and much of the focus was on her experiences, it wouldn't have been as complete without the perspectives of the others and having the varying perspectives without much of a clear transition was jarring. Overall, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I wasn't really sure what to expect with a title by this name, however the last thing I expected was to be totally enthralled. There was a definite mystery element that kept me guessing as to who was responsible for the prison death. Each character was so tremendously powerful and had such a backstory it was hard to narrow down. My favorite character ended up being the transvestite. I had never really known much about this type of person and felt such sorrow when I saw what turmoil it creates.

I picked this up yesterday morning and could not put it down until I was done. What an amazing, relevant and important read this was. I found it to be reminiscent of The Secret History, which I read last year and loved, so if you're a Donna Tartt fan then you should definitely check it out. But really, I would recommend it to anyone interested in a real, raw look at something very big in our world today (you'll have to read the book to see what I mean), with a touch of mystery, suspense and humor.

This story was a major page turner. I kept looking forward to the time I would able to read it after finishing work. This is mostly a story about becoming who you truly are.


More to Explore

  • She's Not There
  • I'm Looking Through You
  • Stuck in the Middle with You

Copy the following link