4 out of 4 stars
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Where the River Runs Deep by Lynne Handy is a mystery set in the small North Carolina town of Cherapee. Maria, a non-native, decides to spend her summer in Cherapee participating in a writer’s retreat. Her decision is not only spurred by the urging of a close friend; upon learning of her husband’s infidelity, Maria is ready for an escape. Cherapee reunites Maria with an old college friend, Bo, who has traveled to the quaint southern town to investigate a series of murders involving the town’s prominent family. Little does Maria know that she will soon be pulled into the investigation, and her idea of a calm summer filled with writing will fall to the wayside.
There is a great deal to like about this book, but the author’s articulate and expressive writing style was by far my favorite element. Told in the first person perspective, the author quickly creates an emotional connection between Maria, the narrator, and the reader. The intensity of Maria’s anxiety as she deals with unfamiliar surroundings, the potential loss of her marriage, meeting new people, and the general eeriness of Cherapee radiate off each page. Further, Maria is a poet, and her narration is simply poetic. The connection between the author’s written word and the main character is so clear, one can’t help but think Maria is a real person.
Although there are a few mysteries surrounding the murder of various subjects, the main mystery of this story involves Cherapee and its unpleasant history. When I finished the novel, at first I felt parts of the murder mystery were lacking: there was no way for the reader to solve the murders based on the information provided. However, when I contemplated the story as a whole, it dawned on me that the more important mystery, the mystery surrounding this narrow-minded southern town, was not only more interesting, but also detectable as the plot progressed. Therefore, I thought the author was incredibly successful in delivering an intriguing and page-turning mystery.
Lastly, I greatly enjoyed that Maria is not a typical protagonist for a mystery; she is not a detective and she has no experience in the field. Maria is portrayed as a normal person experiencing personal upheaval and looking for an escape. Yet her escape leads her through significantly more disorder than she could have imagined, and the character adequately displays appropriate emotions in these circumstances. As an outsider, Maria has a keen perspective of Cherapee, and even more so given her relationship with one of its natives, Amen, a prisoner she met while teaching a prison poetry class. Her help in solving the mystery of the town and the murders was plausible. I was fascinated by the intricate web the author wove between Maria, her past, her personal circumstances, and her growth during her time in Cherapee.
Where the River Runs Deep proved to be engaging, emotional and thought-provoking. My only complaint is that I wish I could have spent more time with Maria and her poetic narrative. This book succeeds as a character study, a cultural reflection, and, of course, as a mystery, which is why I award it 4 out of 4 stars. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy non-procedural mysteries and thrillers with a strong female narrator.
Where the River Runs Deep
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