There is a long and storied history of the “Murder Ballad” within country music. From Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” to “The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence (and eventually, Reba McEntire) to the Chicks saying “Goodbye Earl,” every era of this musical genre has a plethora of examples to choose from. In her new literary crime fiction work, The Last Verse, Caroline Frost places a “Murder Ballad” at the center of the narrative, captivating the fictional listeners within the novel as well as the real-world readers being told the story.

The Last Verse is a historical novel telling the story of Twyla Jean Higgins who flees her ultra-conservative religious home life in order to pay her respects to the King of Rock and Roll—Elvis Presley—on the occasion of his funeral. Eventually ending up in Nashville, Twyla decides to try and make a go of life on her own, following in the footsteps of her dearly-departed bluegrass singer father.

Caroline Frost structures The Last Verse in a way that makes the first half of the book a historical narrative. Readers are given glimpses of life in rural Texas before the fully-immersive experience that is Nashville circa 1977. Twyla Higgins journey follows the bildungsroman tradition—recounting a coming-of-age highlighted by first loves, poor decisions, and slowly evolving levels of maturity. In writing the story in this manner, Frost bonds the reader with Twyla, helping to ensure their investment in her story as things transition into crime fiction.

Not long after arriving in Nashville, Twyla meets Chet Wilton—an up-and-coming musician and band leader. Their romance is the stuff of legends, until one night, something goes very wrong. Unsure of how to handle the situation—and separated from her family and loved ones—Twyla turns to the only friend she has ever had…her songwriting.

Twyla writes “The Devil Made Me Do It” but before she even comprehends what a major accomplishment she has achieved, she hears the song—her song—on the radio being sung by someone else. Faced with an epic quandary, Twyla Higgins must make the correct choice. Does she demand her recognition as a songwriter even at the expense of her freedom? Or should she remain silent and return to her quiet life in Texas?

The Last Verse starts out as a slow burn. Some genre readers may find that the early chapters seem superfluous to the narrative, but once the criminal element of the story is introduced, the narrative steadily gains momentum before becoming a veritable roller-coaster of a ride to its conclusion. In the end, all of the characters are integral to the whole and knowing their complex backgrounds elevates the narrative, proving that Caroline Frost intentionally structured The Last Verse to make the reading experience as satisfying as possible.

Whether they pick up The Last Verse as a historical novel that elucidates the struggles of women in the country music business or as a crime story where a song becomes the key piece of evidence that captivates the World, readers will leave satisfied in what Caroline Frost provides.

BUY LINKS: The Last Verse by Caroline Frost

Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.