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An Amazon Best Debut of the Year 2014
An Amazon Best Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense 2014
A largehearted boy "Best Book of the Year"
Indie Next Selection
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
Amazon Featured Debut
Amazon Best Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense
LibraryReads List

In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children. Her midwife's salary is tucked into the toes of her boots, and her pack is full of gifts for her family. But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house and a smokeless chimney, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.


Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town, defined by the violence both of its landscape and of its inhabitants. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.


A scorching portrait of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence, The Kept is told with deep compassion and startling originality, and introduces James Scott as a major new literary voice.


“The Kept starts out as a straightforward revenge narrative, then slowly deepens into something much more mysterious and compelling. James Scott has written a riveting and memorable debut novel.”

—Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers and Little Children


The crimes of a benighted woman spark horrific blowback; in its wake, this wrenching first novel from the Massachusetts-based Scott tracks two lost souls in the New York hinterland of the late 19th century... Scott is both compassionate moralist and master storyteller in this outstanding debut.

—Kirkus Reviews, ★ starred review


“...[an] accomplished debut... Scott has produced a work of historical fiction that is both atmospheric and memorable, suffused with dread and suspense right up to the last page.”

—Publisher's Weekly, ★ starred review


If someone were to tell you that The Kept involved cross dressing and serial murder, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled on a new contemporary thriller. But James Scott’s debut, while thrilling, is set in rural upstate New York c: 1900. It tells the story of a mother and son who set off for a rough, rural town in search of the killers who murdered their family; there, they make some discoveries, all right--not just about the criminals, but also about their own damaged selves. This debut is not for the faint of heart--look for reviews that compare it to the work of Cormac (The Road) McCarthy. But it will grab you from the first line--“Elspeth Howell was a sinner”--and haunt you well past the discovery that Elspeth’s sins are both lesser and greater than you first thought. This is one profound and disturbing book from a writer to watch. 

—Sara Nelson, An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2014



“What a gripping story teller James Scott is and what a dark and lyrical novel he has written. The Kept is a thrilling debut.”

—Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy and The House on Fortune Street


“With its vivid sense of time and place, lyrical writing, and complex questions of what constitutes a family, The Kept is an outstanding debut by a bright new voice in American fiction.” 

—Ron Rash, author of Nothing Gold Can Stay and Serena

“The Kept is a deeply moving, disconcerting novel… Scott manages something quite difficult here, balancing both terror and tenderness with apparent ease. By the end of the book, you’ll be convinced that he can do just about anything.”

—Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang


“James Scott’s The Kept is a flat-out spectacular novel, full of winter and mystery and one of the most compassionately rendered stories of mothers and sons, of betrayal and redemption, that I have ever encountered. I fell headlong into Elspeth and Caleb’s dark and mysterious world, and emerged with a renewed sense of what it means for a family to confront its destruction and fight for its rebirth.”

—Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth


“The Kept is a brutal and beautiful novel. Written with emotional ascendancy, these rock-ribbed characters illuminate loss, desire, and love. James Scott’s debut is a celebration of bracing action, evocative rendering of the past, and literary precision.” 

—Julianna Baggott, author of Girl Talk and Pure

“The Kept is both a thrilling adventure and a literary triumph. Following the journey of a mother and son who lose everything, only to find each other, James Scott’s haunting tale will astonish and enchant you, the words echoing long after the final pages have turned.” 

—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief


“A darkly beautiful debut novel full of strange, alluring imagery. The writing is a rare blend of brutality and empathy, emotion and close observation. I thought at times of Cormac McCarthy's work and of the novels of David Vann.  At other times it brought to mind Stef Penney's The Tenderness Of Wolves and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. But there's something wonderfully distinctive about The Kept. It belongs to James Scott and James Scott alone. A literary page-turner of the highest calibre by a writer of serious talent.”

—Jonathan Lee, author of Joy


“It is a rare pleasure to read a novel that is written with such self-assuredness, balance, and grace as The Kept, but the fact that it is also a debut makes it all the more extraordinary. Scott joins the pantheon of great American writers such as Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor in his understanding of the dichotomy of violence and beauty.” 

—Emily Crowe, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, Massachusetts


“Scott has written a haunting novel about two characters who are tormented by regret and guilt and who do all the wrong things to find redemption. Beautiful writing and unforgettable characters mark this first novel that has been compared to the work of Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje.”

—Alison Kastner, Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon,


“This taut revenge tale, as gritty as any western, is also an unusual coming-of-age story and compelling saga of twisted secrets…Scott writes with sustained intensity and strong descriptive powers.”



“In all my years as a reader, there are only a handful of books I've read in 24 hours, so intoxicated was I with the story: Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," Cheryl Strayed's "Wild," and Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild" come to mind as 24-hour reads. I now add James Scott's "The Kept" to that list. Wow. Just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. You can't ask more from a book than this.”

—Lauren Daly from SouthCoast Today

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