Title: River Road by Carol Goodman
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From the award-winning author of The Lake of Dead Languages comes a chilling new psychological thriller about a professor accused of killing her favorite student in a hit-and-run accident.
Nan Lewis—a creative writing professor at a state university in upstate New York—is driving home from a faculty holiday party after finding out she’s been denied tenure. On her way, she hits a deer, but when she gets out of her car to look for it, the deer is nowhere to be found. Eager to get home and out of the oncoming snowstorm, Nan is forced to leave her car at the bottom of her snowy driveway to wait out the longest night of the year—and the lowest point of her life…
The next morning, Nan is woken up by a police officer at her door with terrible news—one of her students, Leia Dawson, was killed in a hit-and-run on River Road the night before. And because of the damage to her car, Nan is a suspect. In the days following the accident, Nan finds herself shunned by the same community that rallied around her when her own daughter was killed in an eerily similar accident six years prior. When Nan begins finding disturbing tokens that recall the death of Nan’s own daughter, Nan suspects that the two accidents are connected.
As she begins to dig further, she discovers that everyone around her, including Leia, is hiding secrets. But can she uncover them, clear her name, and figure out who really killed Leia before her reputation is destroyed for good?
River Road by Carol Goodman is a suspense-laden mystery about a college professor who is a suspect in the hit and run death of her student.
Nan Lewis is on her way home from a faculty party when she hits a deer on the same stretch of road where a drunk driver killed her young daughter six years earlier. Distraught over learning she was denied tenure and a little foggy from the wine she consumed at the party, she leaves her car to search for the injured deer but finding no trace of it, she drives home. The next morning, she learns Leia Dawson, one of her brightest students, was killed by a hit and run driver in the same spot where she hit the deer. Despite advice to the contrary, Nan cannot resist trying to find the person responsible for Leia’s death.
Nan is a bit of an unreliable narrator for a good part of the novel. Although she won’t (or cannot) admit it, she is a functioning alcoholic who numbs her pain by throwing back a few bourbons every night. Although convinced she hit a deer, her memory of the night Leia died is a confusing jumble of a vivid dream and actual events that possibly occurred after she fell asleep (or passed out?) in the woods while searching for the injured deer. Equally bewildering are objects left at the scene of the accident that seem to point to Hannah Mulder, the drunk driver who killed Nan’s daughter. Determined to clear her name, Nan ignores police advice to stay out of the case and begins her own willy-nilly investigation which unwittingly puts her in danger.
One of the first people Nan turns to for answers is her ex-lover and colleague Ross Ballantine. Ross hosted the faculty party she attended and while her memory of the night is a little muddled, she clearly remembers that Leia appeared upset when Nan saw her in the kitchen with Ross. Although she finds it difficult to believe that Ross is capable of murder, he has a reputation of being a little too involved with his students. New evidence leads the police to his door but is Ross Leia’s killer?
Another name that keeps popping up in connection with Leia is another one of Nan’s students, Troy Van Donk. Troy is not exactly an upstanding citizen but he is not a mastermind criminal either. However she cannot ignore the possibility he might be involved in Leia’s death once her memories become a little clearer and she realizes she saw Leia and Troy together at the party. As she begins delving deeper into his more unsavory activities at the college, she begins to believe there is a real possibility that Troy killed Leia and then tried to frame Nan for the murder.
In the middle of trying to figure out what happened to Leia, Nan is forced to confront her drinking problem and her unresolved grief and guilt over her daughter’s death. She also must face the uncomfortable truth about her role in the demise of her marriage. Equally eye opening is the realization that her apathy at work and inattention to the details of her student’s lives may have indirectly played a role in Leia’s death. As she finally indulges in some long overdue soul searching, Nan’s insight into her own behavior becomes the impetus she needs to make positive changes in her life. But when faced with adversity, will she revert to old habits?
Although a bit of a slow starter, River Road by Carol Goodman is an engrossing mystery. The characters are sympathetic and likable despite their all too human frailties and flaws. The plot is full of unexpected twists and turns and the liberal use of red herrings successfully obscures the perpetrator’s identity for a good part of the novel. A fascinating whodunit that I highly recommend to readers of the genre.