At dusk, not quite night but no longer day, Nan (Nancy) Lewis takes the curve on River Road too fast. She is blurry eyed, distracted, distraught, and she had maybe too much wine at the college faculty Christmas party. Her thoughts are on what she did not get, what she felt she was owed. Rounding the corner, a deer jumped seemingly from nowhere directly in front of her car. Nan hit her brakes too late. She hears a sickening thud as her car hits the animal then slides into the ditch.
“It was a deer,” she tells herself repeatedly. She searches but cannot find the wounded animal.
The next morning, the police are at her door and inspecting her damaged vehicle. “It was a deer,” she explains over and over again. Yet she learns the body found on River Road was not a deer but that of a young college student, Leia Dawson. Someone had hit the girl and left her for dead on the side of the road. Nan is certain, despite the circumstances of the night, that she would not leave a girl injured or dead on the road, especially on the same corner where her own daughter was killed in a hit-and-run some years earlier. Suddenly, Nan’s world spirals as she races to find the truth and remember what really happened that night, no matter what that truth might be.
River Road by Carol Goodman is a tight, mesmerizing mystery. Goodman doesn’t skirt uncomfortable topics of alcoholism, driving under the influence, or drug dealings. She hits her subjects head on sometimes creating the prickly sensation of bright eyes caught frozen by approaching headlights. Goodman controls her story throughout many twists and turns. Every story angle fits the overall narrative and leads the reader through to a satisfying conclusion.
At first, I did not care much for the Nan Lewis character. She seemed reluctant to accept responsibilities for her actions or to accept her possible weaknesses. Nan is a creative writing instructor who is skating through her life. Her only recent accomplishment is the respect she seems to draw from her college students. She grew into a character that I wanted to root for even if she turned out to be guilty. Her change through the story was slow but realistic.
I read River Road in about four days. Goodman has a gift with storytelling that drew me into the narration. The story gripped me and held me enthralled throughout. The characters all felt real and well defined. River Road is an absorbing mystery with plenty of action to keep most readers engrossed and contented all the way through to its satisfying and plausible conclusion.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Touchstone. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.