three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
By: 
Dana Hand
user_rating: 
0

A-Deep CreekBased on actual events and characters, Deep Creek is the joint effort of Princeton Professor Emeritus Will Howarth and Pulitzer Prize finalist Anne Matthews written under the pen name Dana Hand. Under their own names, they have published 18 works of nonfiction. Deep Creek is their first novel.

The Story: In 1887, three dozen Chinese gold miners are brutally murdered and mutilated on the banks of Deep Creek, a tributary of the Snake River in Idaho Territory. Judge Joe Vincent, who discovered the bodies while fishing with his daughter, is hired by the dead miners’ employer to track down the killers and bring them to justice--a job that could spell political suicide for Vincent. Joined by private investigator Lee Loi, whose Chinese heritage dooms him to prejudice despite his Yale degree, and Grace Sundown, a beautiful, half–Nez Percé mountain guide, Vincent sets off for Hells Canyon in pursuit of the truth, regardless of the cost.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780547237480

Las Vegas Review-Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"For history buffs, Deep Creek’s exploration of deeply rooted racism in the Wild, but evolving, West will provide an eye-opening look at the ways in which both American Indians and Chinese were treated--and mistreated. And for those who love stories about well-developed characters, Deep Creek provides a host of them." Carol Cling

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Now [this] gruesome tale is told dramatically, even lyrically, in the historical novel Deep Creek. ... Using a creative imagination and facts uncovered in a case that almost no one in that region wanted told, the authors elegantly weave an engaging, thrilling, lively narrative of how and why the gang murdered and mutilated the Chinese miners at Deep Creek, a Snake River tributary 65 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho." William Wong

Tucson Citizen 4 of 5 Stars
"Based on actual events and people, this story is set mainly in the remote and beautiful Hells Canyon and has all the literary bite of a cranky rattlesnake. ... Deep Creek is masterfully written and dazzling in every sense of the word." Larry Cox

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Deep Creek is a gripping, spooky historical novel, told in a way that closely resembles real life. ... Deep Creek is highly ambitious and compelling, much more complex than it might appear from paraphrase." Carolyn See

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"We see how America, then as now, struggled with its diversity--of heritage, of faith, of class and of morals. ... Its authors ... fill in the gaps [in the historical record] with a compelling romance, fascinating context and well-crafted characters." Karen Gaudette

Oregonian 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The duo that is Hand brings to the project a historian’s compulsion for detail that resonates beautifully throughout, grounding the reader in a forgotten West where panthers amble across yards and Chinese lanterns float in the shallows of rivers that soon swallow immigrants’ bodies whole. Yet outside the parameters of that crime--which is explored in a visceral and compelling way in the first half of the novel--the pace plods." Ellen Urbani

Critical Summary

"A fascinating account that’s equally effective as mystery, Western history and character study" (Las Vegas Review-Journal), this gripping, complex novel captivated the critics with its moving story, engaging characters, and stark, evocative writing. Building a novel around actual events can be tricky, but these first-time novelists carry it off with aplomb, seamlessly interweaving fact and fiction to fill in the historical gaps. Howarth and Matthews paint a vivid, visceral portrait of the Old West, bringing to life America’s enduring struggles with diversity and racial tension. The Oregonian alone voiced complaints, including an objection to liberties taken with real-life characters. Nonetheless, most critics agreed that "fans of Northwest history, Westerns and mysteries will find much to like in this tale" (Seattle Times).