3 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever had a life-changing experience borne out of one seemingly insignificant decision? Astrid Ingebritson would ponder over the outcome of her choice to run an unfamiliar trail in years to come. The Dark River Secret by Gayle Siebert is a fictional story about love, trust, loyalty, misconceptions, betrayal, and survival. Published in 2018 by Tellwell Talent, it is listed under the C/T/M/H genre.
A man drives into the forest. Heading into his secret cabin lightly armed, he tries to open up the locks, fussing over them while contemplating their replacement with a deadbolt. The nude girl is huddled in a corner, chained, and in tears. She wouldn’t be getting out alive. Such was the fate of a number of females in Dark River, whose mysterious and unsolvable disappearances serve as sexual stimulants for depraved members of the “gentleman’s club.”
Meanwhile, somewhere in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, a young bartender is completely smitten when a handsome cowboy walks in, commanding attention. Unfortunately, Astrid is blindsided by Jennifer who throws herself directly in Cowboy’s (Denver Danielson) path, obscuring the emotional connection about to be made. Little does she know that they would cross paths again, becoming enraptured in a blossoming romance that will be challenged in circumstances beyond their expectations. However, presently dismayed at her longstanding inability to find love, Astrid decides she needs a change of environment.
After a car mishap, and a rumbling stomach forces her road trip to a halt in Dark River, she ends up getting hired as a waitress. As Hank Hazen Junior, the “star boy” of the town, ogles her unabashedly; Astrid feels that her spur-of-the-moment decision to move was the ideal solution to her loveless life. To top it off, she accepts a money-saving opportunity to serve as a live-in caregiver to Bridey, Hank’s rich but vulnerable mother, on their remote “Double H” ranch. Hank Hazen Senior is, every bit, the cultured man his son isn’t. Fletch lives there too, but Astrid’s not so thrilled about that because of his uncanny ability to materialize out of thin air, saying nothing, and giving her the “heebie-jeebies.”
Life with the Hazens is quite expository for Astrid. She learns of the history behind the ranch, and some strange happenings in the town. But when Astrid thought she’d just about had enough of Fletch’s “stalking,” she tries to ditch him by jogging through an unfamiliar trail in the ranch. She sees an “abandoned” cabin, and decides to poke around. Old schoolbags, handbags, purses, and newspaper clippings dating back to the 50’s tell Astrid she’s stumbled upon the Dark River secret. Guess who comes in at that precise moment. Will she end up like Claire? Is there more to the gentleman’s club than meets the eye? How does Astrid survive getting lost in the forest-like ranch with nothing but her wits? Does her travails finally end when Buster, the cute dog on the ranch, practically licks her back to life? Let Gayle Siebert fill you in!
With the settings alternating between the ranches of the Hazens and the Danielsons in northern British Columbia, the plot of The Dark River Secret is breezy, easy to follow, yet suspense-filled. Focusing mainly on Astrid’s sojourn as a lost escapee, the female protagonist’s resilience and survival skills was nothing short of amazing. I was so impressed with the ingenious manner in which she maneuvered a way out of the cabin. I held my breath several times when she was at other decision-making crossroads.
Written in present tense, the language is quite straightforward; however, the cowboy lingo used in varying parts of the book resulted in altered spelling patterns. This, I believe, was the author’s intention. Despite this distinction, I observed some errors which couldn’t hide under the umbrella of western speech. Some of them included punctuation errors, wrong word usage, and wrong spellings like “dat” instead of “that,” among others. These errors were somewhat distracting, and they could easily have been sorted out with another round of editing. The author also used abbreviations and acronyms without providing a clue as to what they stood for in the context of the sentence. For example, on page one of chapter four, Siebert uses the initials, “b.o.” in “…she gets a whiff of b.o.” It took me awhile to figure out that it probably meant "body odor."
The characters, though, were well-developed as well as believable. Astrid and Denver made a cute couple while Hank Junior and Trisha deserved each other. Nonetheless, I felt like there were some loose ends the author could have tied up. For example, as strong as the emotions were between Denver and Astrid, the former never really explained his complicated relationship with his ex-wife, Trisha, to the latter. Surprisingly, Astrid didn’t raise the issue up, either. In matters of the heart, this nonchalance didn’t feel realistic. I also wished the relationship between Fletch and the Hazen family was expounded in more details than the few lines provided with partial exposure. For instance, when he said, “Too late, Dad, ” a flashback would have cleared things up at that point. Lastly, I can’t seem to understand why the story ended the way it did, especially on Astrid’s angle. After her horrifying experience, and Denver’s role in the saga, I can’t say I was totally satisfied with the final conclusion. Of course, this is based on individual preferences, but to a large extent, I believe a lot of people would share my sentiment after reading.
There were no graphic scenes of romance and violence, but a bit of profanity was present. As a result of this, I think the story would have been better classified under the “Other Fiction” genre. The steady pace at which Denver and Astrid’s relationship developed was quite appealing to me; it didn’t feel rushed. I equally admired Astrid’s never-say-die attitude to life. Therefore, The Dark River Secret earns a 3 out of 4 stars. The errors and loose ends earlier mentioned, unfortunately, prevented a perfect rating. Being a lover of fast-paced, action thrillers, this tale started a bit too slow for me, but anyone who enjoys loyalty, determination, and survival stories is welcome to pick this up.
The Dark River Secret
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