Booklicious: Booklicious Reviews ... Down River by John Hart

May 23, 2011



Down River by John Hart (Thomas Dunne Books) is at times both thrilling and engaging, at other times melodramatic and overly emotional. A modern-day mystery, set in a secluded, rural town in Rowan County of North Carolina, the story focuses on Adam Chase. He is reluctantly returning to his hometown for the first time in five years, at the request of his childhood friend Danny Faith. Blamed but not convicted for a murder on his property, Adam arrives home to a town full of vitriolic passion over the possibility of a new power plant, Adam’s father standing in the way of development, and a family divided over how they should treat Adam’s homecoming.

His return instantly fuels drama. He reconnects with an old flame, Robin, gets into a fight with jealous community members, and a dearly beloved member of the family is attacked – all within days of Chase reappearing in Rowan County. The characters are a tight-knit bunch, with the focus of the story remaining tightly on the Chase family. They are a prosperous family, with a large operating ranch that was previously destined to be Adam’s birthright, but it is now set to be his adopted brothers' inheritance. This turn of events alone causes tension within the family, not to mention the facts regarding Adam’s father's remarriage, the identities of Adam’s new stepbrother and sister, and the actions his stepmother took against him during the murder trial.

Needless to say, there is a great deal of drama. In fact, there might be too much drama. In crafting this modern mystery, Hart seems to be a bit overzealous in his creation of murder, blackmail, gambling, family issues, and sex; so much so that the climax felt rather flat, given that so many other events had preceded it. Unlike a slow build that allowed the tension of the not one but two "who-dun-its" to rise, the reader encountered numerous twists and turns throughout the story, to the point that it left one dizzy.

While there is (almost) nothing new under the sun in terms of literature and story, it is the pure craft that draws in a reader. Watching characters unfold before your eyes, having tension grab hold of your mind in classic Hitchcock fashion, or an author describe the scene in a beautiful or inventive manner; it is these elements and more that hook a reader. This novel, although mostly good on many levels, just slightly misses the mark. The characters are not allowed to fully develop because they are constantly running through the labyrinth Hart has created. They are at times just what you would want and expect from individuals going through hardships and family rows; at other times, they are too melodramatic and meta for the genre. If you unabashedly love mysteries and drama, this book is for you. If you prefer a subtler tale that gradually builds to a grand finale, you may want to take a pass on this particular novel. 


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