by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Kathryn Miles's Trailed: One Woman's Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Libro.fm, and Algonquin Books for the ARC of Kathryn Miles’s Trailed in exchange for an honest review. The book is available for purchase!
My interest in Kathryn Miles’s Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders was piqued for two reasons. First, I lived very close to the setting since 1994—in 1996, when the murders happened, I was in college close by but was somehow only vaguely aware of their happening. Second, I saw comparisons to Emma Copley Eisenberg’s The Third Rainbow Girl, an absolutely brilliant blend of memoir and true crime investigation that I loved.
Of course, Trailed is a quite different book than Eisenberg’s, but it does still blend those genres successfully. Miles dives into an investigation of the murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams. Despite proclamations by the authorities that they know who did it, Miles isn’t so convinced. She wades through years of horrific police interviews, faulty conclusions, and denial from groups who don’t want to admit that this type of violence happens in national parks as often as it does.
As Miles learns more about Lollie and Julie, she reflects on attitudes about women in the outdoors and explores organizations like the Woodswomen—a group that gave Lollie and Julie a feeling of belonging—that try to make a difference, trying to understand why so many people have an opinion about whether women should hike or enjoy nature at all without men.
One of the most illuminating parts of this book is the way that Lollie and Julie’s sexuality and close relationship was handled by the press and by prosecutors and the impact that their relationship may—or may not—have had in the way their murder unfolded. There are some horrible decisions made regarding this part of the women’s lives, and while some of those mistakes come from the best of intentions, others definitely do not.
This is a fascinating book that is about more than these murders. It’s about the way the truth can be hidden because of dishonest motives, about the way it can be revealed for similarly disingenuous reasons. This is also about Miles’s own identity and how her growing understanding of Lollie and Julie’s tragedy shapes the way she sees herself and her place in the world.
A large portion of the book does deal with the prime suspect and whether he is guilty or not. While I’m sure this will draw in many readers, it was the larger considerations of everything leading up to the crime and of the way it was handled afterward that were more fascinating to me.
I alternated reading between the ARC and the ALC and recommend both formats—Gabra Zackman, who narrates the book, is excellent. I think Trailed will appeal to a variety of readers: true crime fans, readers of memoir, and those who like nature or outdoor books as well.
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