Reviewed: “The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia” by Emma Copley Eisenberg

Question: Why does it seem like true crime books are required to have at least 80% of their sentences be fewer than five words?

I like true crime stories, I do. True crime books and I do not, however, often get along. Maybe I’m too picky. It’s possible. I could be. Might be. Am.

(See what I did there? I wrote like a true crime writer. And it made my eye twitch from the effort of creating unnecessarily short, choppy sentences.)

Anyway, rants against the writing style of true crime stories aside, The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia is a fine book.

It’s a better history of West Virginia than it is a story of double murder, but it’s a fine book.

My disclaimer here is that I am not from Appalachia or West Virginia, nor have I ever visited either place so I may be entirely wrong in saying that Emma Copley Eisenberg does a fantastic job of telling the history of the place. I think she does, based on the more general American history I know well from the times she talks about – it all makes sense. I could be wrong. She does, though, go back to the pre-Civil War era to build the character of the people who she met when she lived there and who are, in one way or another, satellites surrounding the double murder that happened in Pocahontas County in 1980. I learned a lot, and that’s always a plus.

I get why she did it, spent at least half the book on the history and the state and the bigger picture. I do. And it’s the strongest part of the book. I would have read the book if it were just that, not the murder story too.

What doesn’t seem to work so well is that it’s such a back-and-forth between the murders, Copley Eisenberg’s experiences, and the history of the state. It’s almost like the chapters take turns, which makes it a bit hard to follow when you have to think back to two or three chapters ago to find your bearings in a new one.

There is also a marked difference in tone and writing style between the three main topics. If you’re reading about the murders, be ready for short, choppy sentences and seemingly random quotes from locals about who liked to drink where. If you’re reading about the author’s time in West Virginia, be ready to read a diary of sorts that details her personal evolution and growth. And if you’re reading about the history and the state, be ready for lengthy discourses on philosophies like feminism and cultural relativity, with quotes from scholars and experts and giants of literature.

Each of these things would be absolutely fine on their own.

Put together, the effect is a bit jarring. The story of the murders and the people involved, even the victims, seems somehow dumbed down when compared to the grand, lofty ideals that led to this moment in time.

Those critiques aside, it’s a fine book with good content. If you like history, Appalachia, and true crime in your books… give this one a try.

(I received a copy of this book through NetGalley and Hachette Books in exchange for an honest and original review.)

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