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Monday, March 06, 2017

Intriguing Premise + Sympathetic Heroine + Compelling Plot = Riveting Psychological Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Six years ago, Nan Lewis lost everything because of a drunk driver on River Road.  Her daughter's death shook her world, paralyzing her with grief and anger.  Unable to pen another word, Nan's career as a novelist stalled.  Her marriage crumbled as she curled in on herself, becoming a virtual hermit.  With her social life revolving mainly around her cat, the professor drinks too much while spending long, lonely hours brooding inside her rotting farmhouse.  The only thing that really matters to her is her job teaching creative writing at a college in upstate New York.  And now she's been denied tenure.  Things can't get much worse.

Then, they do.

While driving home from a faculty Christmas party on snow-packed River Road, Nan hits a deer.  Although her car is dented, she sees no sign of the dead animal.  Shaken, she just manages to fight her way through the heavy snow and park her mangled car at the bottom of her driveway.  She receives another shock when a policeman shows up on her doorstep the next morning informing her that one of her students—Leia Dawson—was killed the night before in a hit-and-run on River Road.  Because of Nan's damaged car, she's just become a suspect.  Despite her horrified protests, the overwrought professor can't be entirely sure of her own innocence.  She had been both upset and "slightly" intoxicated when she got behind the wheel.  Nan hit something with her car—was it a deer or something much, much more disturbing?  

As she becomes even more of a pariah in her small community, Nan searches her cloudy memories for the truth of what really happened that night on River Road.  When eerie tokens recalling her daughter's accident start showing up on her doorstep, Nan becomes even more unhinged.  What really happened to Leia Dawson?  Nan's (almost) convinced she had nothing to do with the young woman's death.  But if she didn't, who did?  As the stakes grow ever more perilous, the professor must figure out the truth.  Before it's too late.

With a premise like the one at the heart of River Road by Carol Goodman, how could I resist?  The novel opens with a bang and keeps up the intensity all the way through to its satisfying end.  Nan is a sympathetic character with realistic flaws that make her both relatable and root-worthy.  Myriad twists keep her story interesting.  Although I saw the killer coming from about halfway through the novel, I literally could not stop reading until I knew for sure what had happened to Leia.  River Road is that compelling.  Even though I've read a few more of Goodman's books since this one, River Road remains my favorite.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. I think you might have liked this one a bit more than I did. I liked it, but didn't love it. I'm not sure I was prepared for the slow pace. However, I did enjoy the story very much. OK, tomorrow Carol Goodman's new book, THE WIDOW'S HOUSE, comes out. I finished it yesterday and I will say that I did love that one. Gothic in the extreme with ghosts and creepy houses and odd puppets and thing that go bump in the night. Loved it. Loved it. You should try it. ;-)

    1. Sounds like it. I did like it a lot. I actually liked the slow build-up -- it added to the tension for me.

      THE WIDOW'S HOUSE does sound good. It's on-order at my library and guess who's first on the reserve list?? :)

  2. I've really liked several of the Carol Goodman novels that I've read, but I haven't read this one...yet. :)

    1. I liked GHOST ORCHID a lot. THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES was intense, but I didn't love it. Which others have you read?

    2. I really liked The Seduction of Water and Arcadia Falls. They're both great reads IMO. I've also read The Drowning Tree, which I thought was good and well-written, but it's not one of my favorites. :)

    3. I started ARCADIA FALLS, but it reminded me so much of THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES that I stopped reading. I haven't read the other two you mentioned, but it sounds like I need to give THE SEDUCTION OF WATER a go.

  3. This sounds like a tough read in a lot of ways but definitely a compelling read! I'm kind of amazed the author made the heroine sympathetic. It seems like in these types of books the heroine is normally so messed up she's impossible to relate too. The fact that that's not the case here is an extra treat. I'll definitely have to look for this one.

    1. She's definitely messed up, but it's because grief stemming from the loss of her child. I've never lost a child, but I can image -- at least to a teeny degree -- the pain that would cause. This made Nan a sympathetic character for me.

  4. Sounds great! I'll have to check this author out. Should I start with this one?

    1. This one is my favorite. I also liked GHOST ORCHID. The new one -- which Kay mentioned above -- also sounds really good.

  5. I love when a book starts with a bang and keeps it up. It also says a lot that you knew who it was but were still into the story. Great review!


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