Author: R. J. Ellory, 2013.
Genre: Period Fiction. Southern Gothic. Crime. Police Procedural. War.
Other Details: Hardback. 432 pages.
On a perfect summer evening in 1954, sixteen-year-old Nancy Denton walked into the woods of her hometown of Whytesburg, Mississippi. She was never seen again. Two decades on, Sheriff John Gaines witnesses a harrowing discovery. A young woman has been unearthed from the riverbank, her body perfectly preserved, yet she bears evidence of a brutal ritualistic killing. Nancy has come home at last, but her return does not bring closure to her family, nor to the townsfolk of Whytesburg. Already haunted by his experiences in Vietnam, Gaines must now stretch his abilities to the limit, pushing himself ever closer to breaking point. What really happened to the beautiful and vivacious Nancy? And why do her friends refuse to talk? As Gaines closes in on the truth, he is forced to not only confront his own demons, but to unearth secrets that have long remained hidden. And that truth, so much darker than he could ever have imagined, may be the one thing that finally destroys him. - synopsis from author's website.
I always look forward to reading a novel by R. J. Ellory as he is such a good storyteller and each book is very different to the others. The Observer reviewer wrote: 'The Devil and the River' is lots of fun. Voodoo and murders and gothically imposing southern dynasties – what's not to like? I wholeheartedly agree as this proved another intelligent and engaging thriller from Ellory.
He does seem to have the knack of capturing mid-20th Century rural USA and getting under the skin of his characters. The novel was as much about the effects of war upon returning veterans as it was about the central crime of the murdered teenager. The novel is quite harrowing in a number of places including the memories of the Vietnam War that keep intruding into Gaines' consciousness. I had hoped for more of the voodoo/hoodoo/conjure elements though it was consistent with the plot and characters that this was kept more as background to its Deep South setting.