three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
John Hart
user_rating: 
0

A-Down RiverWhen Adam Chase returns to his North Carolina hometown after living in New York City, he does not receive a friendly welcome. His departure from Rowan County five years earlier followed acquittal of a murder charge, a verdict that left the locals-including his own family-wary of his innocence. Now, with the discovery of another body, suspicion follows him again. In addition to contending with the fresh accusations, he faces conflict in his own family, countywide divisions spawned by a power company's efforts to buy up land, and a multitude of unstable characters, each with his or her own dark secrets.
St. Martin's Minotaur. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0312359314

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In Down River, Hart surpasses his debut [The King of Lies]. ... With its keen appraisals of human foibles and its emphasis on North Carolina history and flavor, Down River falls squarely in the league of the best of Southern novels." Oline H. Cogdill

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The elements of the mystery plot-lives are threatened, people are beaten and murdered apparently as a consequence of escalating land values and Adam's father's stubborn refusal to sell his vast acreage-are overshadowed by the inner turmoil of characters who uncover secrets from the past. ... This is a novel about the power of family, how it defines and follows us, no matter how far or fast we run." Hallie Ephron

Charlotte Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A]nother tale of the grim South, so pointedly wretched it could as well be called Downer River. ... Hart gives us red herrings and romantic tension, but his heart clearly is in painting word pictures that show how Adam's view of the world is filtered through his pain." Salem Macknee

Telegraph [UK] 3.5 of 5 Stars
"John Hart shows once again what a good storyteller he is, though the theme of Down River is essentially the same as that of his debut novel, The King of Lies. ... Hart spins a clever mystery and keeps skilful control of his plot, but his characters are mostly a charmless bunch, constantly angry and frequently erupting into violence, and it's hard to care what happens to any of them." Susanna Yager

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Hart does flog these tales hard enough to keep them moving at a fast clip. ... If the deep-dish noir dialogue in Down River sounds torrential, that has a certain kitschy appeal." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

John Hart's 2006 debut, The King of Lies ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2006), earned an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel. Most reviewers agree that his sophomore effort is a worthy successor. The plot moves energetically through interesting terrain: a southern county torn apart by the possibility of easy wealth, a family ruptured by suspicion, and a community that despises the book's protagonist. The New York Times criticized Hart for overblown writing and stale imagery but grudgingly praised the story's vigorous plot and feverish pace. With Down River, Hart garners comparisons to Raymond Chandler, John Grisham, and Scott Turow. This illustrious list should be recommendation enough for most readers.