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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Crooked River Taut, Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Despite their parents' unconventional marriage, Sam and Ollie McAlister have enjoyed a fairly normal childhood.  Until now.  When their mother dies, the sisters insist on living with their dad in rural Oregon, even though few people would consider Frank "Bear" McAlister a suitable guardian for two young girls.  The trio live in an old teepee in a large meadow on the property of a kind elderly couple.  A beekeeper, Bear squeaks out a living by selling honey and doing odd jobs.  Most teenagers would balk at this kind of living arrangement, but it suits 15-year-old Sam just fine.  Especially in the summertime, when she and Ollie are free to run wild, picking blackberries, swimming in the river, and eating meals around a campfire.  The winter will be a different story, no doubt, but she and Ollie might be in Boston by then since their maternal grandmother has given Bear only six months to prove he can care for his daughters properly.  If anything untoward happens, she'll take the girls away from their father.  Forever.

Sam can't let that happen, so when she and Ollie find the body of a bloodied young woman in a river bend near their meadow, she knows her family can't be tied to its discovery in any way.  The girls push the corpse on down the river, hoping no suspicion will settle on them.  But when Sam discovers something that belongs to the dead woman hidden in Bear's teepee, she begins to wonder if her dad might be guilty of more than squatting on property that doesn't belong to him.  The town feels the same way—it's not long before Bear is in jail, accused of murdering Taylor Bellweather, a recent U of O graduate.

Despite the police's "evidence," Sam refuses to believe gentle Bear had anything to do with the crime.  But who did?  Sam intends to find out.  Ten-year-old Ollie wants to help, but she hasn't spoken a word since her mom died.  She still can't talk, can't tell her sister about the "Shimmers" that follow her and the things they know.  Even if their ghostly messages could save them all.

Murder mysteries with a tinge of the supernatural thrown in have been all the rage for awhile now, especially in teen lit.  Thus, even though it's an adult novel with these elements, Crooked River (available October 14, 2014)—a debut novel by Valerie Geary—isn't all that original.  And yet, I found it to be a taut, compelling psychological thriller.  Geary brings her setting and characters to such vibrant life that I not only saw them, but cared about them.  The sisters especially earned my affection, so much so that I couldn't put the book down until I found out what happened to them.  Although the novel's ending seemed a little melodramatic, overall, I enjoyed this atmospheric, engrossing murder mystery.    

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Crooked River from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!    

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