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River Road


River Road

Carol Goodman has been producing quality, complex and character-driven novels for many years now. She and her family reside in the Hudson Valley region of upstate New York and works as a creative writing instructor at SUNY New Paltz. Her latest effort, RIVER ROAD, uses all of this, and the result is a thriller that feels so real you literally will shiver along with the characters as they battle the harsh winter cold while trying to solve a murder.

Goodman's first novel, the fantastic THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, was set in upstate New York, and a slew of terrific mystery and thriller novels from other authors have been produced in the last few decades focusing on this territory. It is almost like these stories are carving out their own niche genre, which I refer to as Upstate New York Noir.

"RIVER ROAD is a great literary thriller that takes a tragic event on an icy, dark, winding country road and spins it out like great Greek drama."

RIVER ROAD is set in the Hudson Valley, and the action takes place during the Christmas season. The setting is stark and claustrophobic as both students and faculty are isolated by the snowy and harsh winter conditions. The only students left on campus are those who have nowhere to go for the holiday/winter break, and this makes for a close-knit community of people that provides the ideal backdrop for a murder mystery.

The protagonist of the story is Nan Lewis, a creative writing professor who has just had her tenure denied. She learns of this decision at a faculty holiday party, and it hits her hard. Nan is an extremely complex character, which Goodman has nicely layered with many levels of personality and experience. You will spend much of this book inside Nan's mind, and at times it will be difficult to navigate between what is really happening and what is a product of her alcohol-fueled imagination.

It is no wonder that Nan has a drinking problem. She turned her back on her toddler daughter a few years earlier, and in a split second, the child, Emmy, walked out of the house only to be struck and killed on River Road by a drunk driver. The result was the breakup of her marriage and her downward spiral into alcoholism. So it is no surprise that the few drinks she had at that faculty party impaired her driving and led to her accident on River Road where she struck a deer. After searching for the injured animal in the snowy woods and briefly passing out against a tree, Nan heads home to sleep it off.

The next morning, the campus is buzzing over the death of popular student Leia Dawson.  When the local police show up at Nan's door and notice her damaged car, she is immediately questioned. Could Nan have actually struck and killed Leia instead of a deer as she drove along the icy and dangerous River Road?

The investigation starts, and Nan has now become a pariah on campus. Denied tenure, with a notable drinking problem and still numb with grief from her personal loss, Nan is an easy target. The novel twists and turns, introducing a slew of characters that weave their way into the tapestry of the story. It eventually becomes a thrilling whodunit where guilt jumps from character to character as the story becomes more and more complex.

RIVER ROAD is a great literary thriller that takes a tragic event on an icy, dark, winding country road and spins it out like great Greek drama. Nan is a tough character and an oftentimes unreliable narrator as her own demons play tricks with her reality. When her precious pet cat, Oolong, turns up frozen to death on her front porch, is it a deadly message sent by the person who actually killed Leia or merely the product of Nan's dive into a bottle of Glenlivet that helped steal her short-term memory? This is not your typical mystery/thriller, and that's a good thing!

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 12, 2016

River Road
by Carol Goodman