Book Review: Goat Castle by Karen L Cox

Synopsis“Murder, aristocracy, recluses, and goats – these were subjects more likely to be found in a southern gothic novel” and yet, as Goat Castle so reveals, just as comfortable in 1930s Natchez, Mississippi. This book traces the crime, it’s sensationalized retellings in the national media, and never-ending litigation surrounding one of the most bizarre murders. 

Content Note: Murder, racism, 

 The Goat Castle opens with a description of a crime whose setup is so outlandish that it is easy to forget about the real human cost. The elderly, unmarried daughter of former plantation owners is found dead, and all signs point to her equally aristocratic, far more bizarre neighbors. Of course, this being the 1930s, white, once-high-class individuals do not make for good enough suspects. The lengths to which the white-operated justice system will go to convict a black citizen are eye-opening, even though everyone knows what’s coming. As Cox describes it, “murder, aristocracy, recluses, and goats – these were subjects more likely to be found in a southern gothic novel” or a Wes Anderson film. Yet she goes beyond the sensationalized aspects of the obscure crime, presenting a society in flux and those caught in the crossfires of public opinion.

   Beyond just the “murder, aristocracy, recluses, and goats”, there’s also racism, war, and family history at play. Cos does a brilliant job at humanizing the eclectic cast of players. They are more than just historical footnotes or archetypes, but rather people irrevocably intertwined with their society. Natchez, Mississippi becomes a mirror for the nation at large, with the local murder of Jennie Merrill shining a spotlight on race, class, and media ‘spin’.

    It is Emily “Sister” Burns who emerges as the closest thing to a hero – a woman simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, victimized due to her race, gender, and social status, who fights in spite of the odds. You can’t help but root for her.

  This book does a wonderful job at not only capturing the details which would have propelled such a crime to national consciousness, but also in understanding what it signified abou broader societal trends. Were it fiction (say a William Faulkner story), the plot would be laughable. That it’s fact almost defies belief.

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review