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Down River    by John Hart order for
Down River
by John Hart
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2007)
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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Twenty-eight year old Adam Chase, after five years of obscure anonymity in New York City, is returning home. However, Adam's father, family, and neighbors in rural North Carolina are not really eager to welcome the young man who had once been the 'crown prince of Rowan County.' In fact, when Adam had abruptly left on his self-imposed exile to the streets of Manhattan, he had been trying to escape the deeply affecting stigma of a traumatic experience: his acquittal at a murder trial, a trial in which his own step-mother had been the principal prosecution witness.

Now, upon his surprising return to the not-so-Edenic world of his wealthy father's massive Red Water Farm on the banks of the Yadkin River, Adam is about to find himself brutally welcomed and then embroiled in even more trauma and tragedy.

A beautiful young girl is attacked, badly beaten, and left unconscious on the bank of the river, and - either inexplicably or naturally, depending upon whether or not you believe Adam's previous acquittal was appropriate - Adam is once again suspected by police, family, and acquaintances.

Then, in another incident, the decaying body of Adam's former best friend is found dead on the Red Water Farm property; and even though the dead man had been presumed to have been in Florida - and even though Adam seems to have been in NYC at the time of death - almost everyone thinks Adam was in some way responsible. At least that seems to be the case until someone else - a most unlikely suspect - is arrested.

Adam quickly realizes that harm seems 'to lurk around every corner' in this small corner of rural North Carolina, and, more particularly, he knows that 'it could still get worse.' So, as Adam begins the complicated process of trying to exonerate himself and find out the truth behind the attack and the murder, he will need to dig deeply into the long buried sins and sorrows of Red Water Farm. Before it is over, Adam, his family, and his few remaining friends will be taken beyond the breaking point, and the truth - once revealed - will both destroy and liberate.

Down River is an example of beautiful writing by a careful, talented novelist. There is a remarkably lucid strength in John Hart's narrative style, and I wholeheartedly recommend Down River to everyone.

Yes, some readers will be tempted to compare this superb novel to the best of William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Dorothy Allison, Reynolds Price and other outstanding practitioners of southern fiction; however, Hart's storytelling is powerfully singular: with a touch of southern Gothic, a touch of Greek tragedy, and a touch of Golden Age murder mysteries, Down River is a paradoxical blend of provocative literature and spellbinding entertainment. Don't miss it!

2nd Review by Joan Burton:

Adam Chase grew up in Salisbury, North Carolina on the family Red River Farm. Passed down through the generations since 1789, it encompasses hundreds of acres of lush green property with the Yadkin River running alongside. Salisbury is a small southern town where everyone knows their neighbour and nothing exciting ever happens. At least that was the case, until five years before, when a man was found murdered on Chase property. Adam was arrested, based on his stepmother's testimony. Even though he was acquitted, most of the town - including his father - believed him guilty. An embittered Adam left, but now he's back and the town is talking.

A phone call from an old friend needing his help has brought Adam home. Returning has opened up painful memories that have never healed. Adam's mother died a tragic death when he was young. Witnessing it left him scared and angry. He always strove for his father's love and approval, and later there were personality clashes with his stepmother. Years of hurt and family secrets left Chase misunderstood and fighting for survival.

Now, home for less than a day, Chase finds himself in a brawl. His car is vandalized, and he is badly beaten by three men, one of them his best friend's father. Another beating leaves a young woman fighting for her life by the river, and Adam's best friend has disappeared. New clues lead Adam to investigate his own family, while local authorities are looking at him. Everything was peaceful until his return. Adam and his ex-girlfriend, a local cop, try to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Just when Adam thinks he has found answers, he discovers secrets in his own family that have been buried for years - and it seems someone wants them left that way.

Down River - a multi-layered story of family secrets and revenge - is one of the best books I have read all year.

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