Saturday, February 21, 2009

North Carolina: Down on the farm with 'Down River' by John Hart

Adam Chase, the narrator of Down River, returns home to the family farm five years after being banished from his childhood home by his father following his acquittal in a murder trial. Even his family thought he was guilty and didn't want him around.

Now his best friend has begged him to come back. In the meantime a nuclear power company is trying to buy up all the land for development, and Chase's father – the largest landowner in the area – is leading the opposition.

I chose to read Down River as it is set in a part of the USA – North Carolina – that I loved when I visited, though most of my time there was spent on the wonderful Outer Banks. And when I noticed it bannered as a Richard&Judy Summer Read, I expected it to be a compelling story.

But I'm sorry to say that, for me at least, it wasn't. I found the style, with its tendency to very short sentences and sentence fragments – presumably to enhance the urgency of the narrative drive – to be wearying after a while. The plot rattles along at a breakneck speed with an interesting initial premise, but its development and the ultimate denouement is predictable. I never felt the characters were fully fleshed out, and I didn't care about what happened to them.

Most disappointing was, however, that there was little sense of place in the story. It is set in Salisbury in Rowan County, fifty miles north of Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, and I was astonished to discover, when researching for this blog, that Rowan County, the Yadkin River and the city of Salisbury are all real places – the city has some gracious old buildings and an interesting history. This makes the lack of grounding and atmosphere even more surprising, especially since the author is himself a native of the state, and still lives there.

I guess this just isn't my style of story – lots of fighting, guns, beautiful women and running about. I'm moving on to Hakan Nesser's Mind's Eye next – hopefully that'll be more to my taste!


Uriah Robinson said...

I have Down River on my TBR shelf also because I also loved beautiful North Carolina, although I have not been to Salisbury. You comprehend how vast the USA is when you drive from the coast to the Appalachians and still haven't left NC.
I think you will like Mind's Eye, but perhaps I will move Down River back a notch on my shelf.

Dorte H said...

I really liked "Mind´s Eye" though I do not quite remember much of the book any more (it is Nesser´s first, as you probably know). My husband and I saw the film a few weeks ago, and found it a good ´mystery´.

L.J. Sellers said...

I enjoyed Down River more than you did, but still thought his first novel, King of Lies, was better.