If you like your thrillers slickly written and sharply observed, don't read Down River.
If you appreciate acute characterisation and believable action, don't read Down River.
Enjoy engaging dialogue, convincing back-stories and clever plotting? Probably best you don't read Down River.
However, if none of the above applies, and you prefer clumsily written mysteries, a worn-out thesaurus and plot holes you can climb through, then by all means, this is a book to savour. Some books and films (and people, for that matter) have quite mystifying levels of success, and John Hart's second novel is very much one of these. I'm not sure whether Richard & Judy's Summer Reads is a mark of high-calibre literature, but they make some pretty solid choices, more or less. This being "less".
Down River is a tale of murder, more murder and comin' home. Oh, and spectacularly ugly people. I'm not sure whether this is intentional, but in the process of describing each and every character's appearance, significant or (more often) not, the author manages to make everyone in the story sound like they've been thrown out of Cirque du Freak for scaring the kids too much. Adam Chase, then, is a returning son of a small North Carolina town who was previously exiled; his acquittal on murder charges apparently insufficient to convince a suspicious populace.
But now he's back, and he's not taking any rubbish. Damn, no. The heir to a substantial fortune, he fancies patching things up with his estranged family and ex-girlfriend. Bad things, specifically dead bodies have a habit of following in Adam's wake, however (not in an arms-aloft, groaning zombie kind of way, although that might have made the book marginally more interesting). No sooner is he back in town, people start to get assaulted and murdered, and all eyes are on our hero - can he get to the bottom of all this? Can he convince the police he's not involved? Will his family take him back? Do we care?
I'm trying to find positives in Down River, if only for change of pace. It's pretty fast-moving, as a book with so many deaths in it is likely to be, and there's a twisting and turning whodunit sort of plotline that is vaguely interesting, but it spins around so many times, it's hard to care when the guilt finally settles on someone. On top of this, it's a pretty funny book, although I can't imagine much of this is intentional.
The problems are manyfold, unfortunately.
Hart's writing is a big part of this - he's not bad when he's rendering the landscape in which the story is set; in his descriptions of farmland and river, you get an evocative sense of personal attachment, and he conveys well enough what an area of land means to a person or family.
However, he really struggles to write characters.
His physical descriptions are, for want of a better word, horrible. You get the impression that he's attended a distinctly second-rate creative writing class that's convinced him that the more adjectives he can throw into a paragraph, the better. As a consequence, he describes everything and everyone, and overdoes it painfully. It's not enough that a man is tall, he has to be "tall and strong and muscular" with a hunched back and flakes of skin on his glasses. Everyone ends up sounding like a monster, and you wish he'd had his thesaurus taken off him when he starts piling up the adjectives for the next minor character to make an appearance.
Alongside the clunky style, characters are also bemusingly inconsistent - a Mexican hotel employee speaks in perfect English one moment, then a couple of lines down the page sounds like Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
The police are similarly implausible - which, for an author with a legal background is surprising. I'm sure Hart knows his stuff, but it fails to make the transition from his mind to the page, resulting in some almost ludicrous conclusions drawn from almost no evidence, and some over-the-top reactions that one can only hope doesn't represent American police forces.
Down River is, in short, a stinker. There are many excellent thrillers out there, and failing that, there are plenty of plain average ones that you would do well to read before this. I'll finish with one of my favourite lines, describing a small child:
"She was so black she was purple."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Down River is John Harts second novel and the only one that I have read.
John Hart is the Edgar-Award winning author of two international bestsellers, THE KING OF LIES and DOWN RIVER. His books have been translated into twenty-six languages and published in over thirty countries.
John has also worked as a banker, stockbroker and apprentice helicopter mechanic. A husband and father of two, John lives in his native North Carolina, where he writes full-time.
His third novel, THE LAST CHILD, will be released in May of 2009.
Down River has been named 'best suspense of the month' by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and selected as a Featured Alternate of the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild, and the Double Day Book Club.
Adam Chase was arrested for murder due to his stepmother's sworn testimony against him. He was acquitted, but nearly everyone, including his father, still thinks he did it, and Adam's deep bitterness has kept him away from home ever since. Now, at the request of a childhood friend, he's back in Salisbury, where all the old demons still reside and new troubles await.Within hours of arriving, Adam is beaten up, accosted and has to face the hostility of those closest to him, including Grace. Nothing has changed. And then people start turning up dead. For a man only just acquitted of murder, Adam's homecoming does not go well. And he has a dark streak, a history of violence. No one trusts him. And as the past threatens to overshadow the present, Adam becomes the prime suspect for the new murders.
I would never have picked up a thriller to be honest, Im 100% a chick-lit girl but a friend lent me this and told me to trust her and go with it.
I have to say that I could not put it down and had read it in a few days. The twists and turns are totally believable although you really dont see them coming and theres no way anybody would guess the outcome of this book. I think that throughout the book Id decided I knew the outcome on at least three seperate occassions but was wrong every time!
I can imagine it being made into quite a blockbuster.
As well as the twists in this novel we also get quite an insight into Adams family life and how there really is a thin line between love and hate.
I must own up to occassionaly 'skimming' through the odd page that I found difficult to follow but this was also slightly due to my impatience of getting to the end.
Im going to read a chick-lit again next but I will keep an eye open for Harts two other novels and I may just give them a go.
Format: Paperback 384 pages
Date of publication: 16/06/2008
Publisher: John Murray Publishers Ltd
List Price £7.99
I don't normally go for mystery type books, but something about this one appealed, and it wasn't just the 3for2 sticker on the front!
This is the homecoming story of Adam Chase. Five years earlier he is run-out-of-town after being acquited of murder. After a phone call from his best friend, Adam finds himself on the road home, and everything that means.
The twists and turns in this book keeps you reading. You certainly don't see the outcome before you read it, and the other twists along the way keep the pages turning.
Hart is exceptional at writing characters that are believable, and you find yourself liking some, disliking others, and even wanting to shake one or two very hard! You do will Adam on to clear his name, and although you may think you know who it is or was, you will be wrong!
I really enjoyed this novel. I had to keep reading, the pages kept turning, and was late to work once as I was engrossed!
Whether you normally go for mystery, drama novels or not, give this a go. It's such an easy read, you wont regret it
Down River is the second novel from John Hart. Based in North Carolina, both Hart's novels are thrillers and met with a positive response from critics and enjoyed sales accordingly (the cover of my copy describes him as 'international best seller'). I reached the end of my previous book over Christmas whilst staying at Mum and Dad's and borrowed a copy of the book off my Dad. It was an opportunistic choice as I knew nothing of the author or the book, but it had a Richard & Judy's Summer Read sticker on the front, so (once I'd put my snobbery to one side) I guessed it was probably a safe bet.
The novel tells the story of Adam Chase who returns to his home town 5 years after having been acquitted for murder. He's spent the intervening time in New York trying to forget the trauma of this experience: the betrayal of his family (his step mother was a witness against him in the trial, his father stood by her) and the judgement of the people in town. His best friend manages to track him down and calls him, asking for his return. Adam tells his friend 'no', but the call stays with him and the wall he's built between himself and home starts to crumble. In the end, he decides to return. As soon as he arrives he's beaten up, then a young woman is attacked and not long after that a dead body turns up. Adam is under police scrutiny once more.
The book addresses his relationship with his family, each of whom have a different take on what happened to him, and in particular with his father, who he feels betrayed him. It also has a love interest, his partner when he left is a police officer and she is bitter and has been hardened by his absence. Whilst Adam's interaction with these people, their reaction to his return and to the turn of events, are all covered by the book, this is not its strength. There are no nuances and emotions are not left unsaid, but are explained through the narration. I didn't find this aspect of the book particularly effective, I simply didn't care enough about the characters.
Adam is a troubled man from a troubled childhood, his mother's suicide when he was a young boy has put a strain on his relationship with his father and has made him an angry and violent young man. His moral code is essentially good, but his short fuse and his disregard for authority mean he gets himself into situations that most other people wouldn't. No wonder he's an obvious target for the police, but more importantly this makes him a useful dramatic tool in unravelling the plot.
The writing style is efficient. That is, you get what is necessary to steer you through the twists and turns of the plot. Whilst it is set in Rowan County in North Carolina, it doesn't make very much of the setting and I didn't get a real sense of place. The opening paragraph references the river evocatively: "Everything that shaped me happened near that river. I lost my mother in sight of I, fell in love on its banks. I could smell it on the day my father drove me out. It was part of my soul and I thought I'd lost it forever." And yet, it does not really maintain this importance in the book - the imagery is not that strong.
The novel is, however, a pretty effective 'whodunit'. The pace is relentless, the twists and turns intriguing, the outcome harsh.
I suspect what I see as shortcomings are simply due to the fact that this is not my usual kind of book. If you like a strong plot that keeps you guessing, then you will thoroughly enjoy this book. I tend to like books with less plot and more imagery, nuance, character and emotion (ok, call me girly, I don't care!). I enjoyed the fact that the plot meandered in and out of his friends and family, his relationships with them and their relationships with each other.
If you like thrillers, then this is a good read: fast, furious, and with a strong conclusion. I can see that this is, indeed, a very good summer holiday book - beyond trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, there is little to think about. I guess this just isn't my kind of book - I'd rather have had more character, more interesting prose and something to make me think.
There isn't much product information available on Amazon so to give you an idea what it's about, Adam Chase lives in New York having left his home town five years following an acquital from a murder charge - all this is revealed within first and second chapter so it isn't a plot spoiler - but his friend from home calls him and he has to go back. When he gets home people start turning up dead and unfortunately Adam looks like number one suspect with only him being able to clear his name.
The writing style took me a little while to settle into. The sentences are disjointed in places and there is no descriptive narrative as such. The only thing I can compare it to is Gordon Ramsey when he does his recipes and he simply says the bog standard ingredient and method. Hopefully you know what I mean if you've ever watched his most recent shows. Because of this, I couldn't get into a flow and my reading initially wasn't enjoyable. However I soon got used to it and eventually the plot became more of a focus than the writing style.
All of the characters are interesting. Some of the relationships will leave you a bit puzzled, mainly for me that was the relationship between Grace and Adam. Eventually all the links between the characters becomes clear and you can start putting two and two together; yet I don't think you'll ever completely work everything out. John Hart has been clever and there are some amazing aspects of the plot that come in the last quarter of the novel.
I don't feel like it's a fast paced thriller but it is definitely atmospheric and exciting; leaving the reader to question the betrayals that have happened and whether they would do the same in Adam's situation. Even when explanations have occured you are still left with an unsettled feeling of whether people should've done what they did. As for other novels like it, the blurb talks about John Grisham, Scott Turow and Raymond Chandler; I haven't read any of those but they are ones I'll hunt out in the future based on this novel. Whilst I've only given it a 4 star review and not a 5, it is only the writing style that let it down as the plot was great.
This book is part of the Richard & Judy Summer 2008 Reads and I can see why. It has huge appeal for a range of audiences, this is my seventh read from the summer reads and it is third to 'No Time for Goodbye' and 'East of the Sun'.