Dark River Road by Virginia Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The write-up and prologue for this novel made me assume I'd picked a slick, Southern suspense thriller, dripping with sweat and molasses and dark family secrets. It seemed like the sort of thing you could read for cheap thrills on a train or plane, and that's exactly what I did. It took me two train rides, from Leeds to Glasgow and back, to read this dense, absorbing novel.
A cheap thriller this was not.
Chantry Callahan is a boy growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in his little Mississippi town. It's around the late 80's, early 90's, but thinking and social norm still seem to be stuck in the 50's. The entire town is run by one man, Bert Quinton, a soulless tyrant who has never had to face any opposition for his crimes until the day Chantry returns as a man to settle the score.
The beginning is very much a classic, borderline stereotypical Southern tale. Chantry goes about his day dodging his drunken stepfather, raising a magically devoted hunting dog, taking solace from the sage African American neighbor, exchanging punches with the town bully/pretty-boy, mooning after the golden-haired belle of the school, and bonding with his best friend who has dreams of achievement despite the restrictions set upon her race. I became so drawn into this part of the novel, that it easily could have ended halfway through with the plots involving the raising of the dog, his brother's illness, and the tangled youthful love affairs budding between Chantry and his peers being tied up.
Go two hundred pages beyond, however, and the plot barrels home. All of the characters are forced to face truth, and enemies are forced to make their final move. Through it all, Chantry remains a relentlessly likable tough guy with a heart of gold. Stubborn, and quick to violence, his fists remain clenched through the entire final act as he rips open the darkest secrets of his enemies and faces the uncovered truths of his own family. Along the way, his friends are drawn along and forced to go through new life changes of their own. Chantry Callahan is almost something more a force of nature than human, but man enough when needed.
I recommend everyone give this read a try.
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