John Hart’s Down River is his second novel. I’ve also read his debut novel The King of Lies (2006) and what I firmly believe is his best novel to date, The Last Child (2009). Hart is a good storyteller, whose books are well-paced, characters well-developed, and settings described so colorfully they’re nearly palpable.
Down River is the story of a North Carolina family that stumbles from one calamity to another. Adam Chase returns home from five years in exile, after a jury exonerated him for the death of a young man killed on the Chases’ expansive farm. Upon coming home, he immediately faces the ghosts of his past while discovering that the present carries its own troubles. The power company is looking to buy large tracts of land to build a nuclear plant, and Chase’s father is its biggest impediment. By refusing to sell land that has been in the family for more than two hundred years, Adam Chase’s father has made enemies who seems to have no limits to the measures they’ll take to coerce the family to sell.
There is some criminal activity in Down River, which has led me to share this bit of practical wisdom: If a client ever says to you, “I’ll tell you what I think you need to know,” it’s probably time to fire your client. I’ve not had a client speak those words to me, but plenty act on the sentiment. And more than once, I’ve told clients, “I’m not the guy you lie to or keep things from. I’m the guy you tell everything to.”
In the midst of the melee and ruthlessness, Hart drops lines like this one that have stuck with me: “Other than memories, words are all we have.” I don’t really agree with it, but I appreciate that Down River left me with something to think about.
I enjoyed John Hart’s Down River and can recommend it. You can find Down River in any format on Amazon (affiliate link).
Rating (out of 4 gavels):
Other novels I’ve reviewed: