“River Bodies” (Thomas & Mercer), by Karen Katchur
Karen Katchur launches the first in her new Northampton County series with a darkly rich family drama about a young woman reconciling her childhood with the adult she has become. “River Bodies” centers on veterinarian Becca Kingsley, who is forced to return to her hometown because her estranged father is dying.
Becca has built a life in Columbia, New Jersey, where she loves her career as a surgeon in a successful veterinary clinic. She lives with Matt Goode, a litigator, who, like her father is charming and handsome. He also cheats on her and sometimes doesn’t come home, just like her father, who flaunted his infidelities in front of her and her mother. Becca and Matt live in a gated condo community where she often feels trapped.
Her hometown of Portland, Pennsylvania, is about 15 minutes away, but light years away emotionally for Becca. Her childhood was complicated because her father, Clint, was the police chief. The town was divided between the regular residents and the members of the Scions motorcycle gang that ruled one side of Portland.
At the urging of her mother and Clint’s latest live-in girlfriend, Becca returns to see her father, who is near death. But Becca cannot forget past grievances and betrayals and their reunion is tenuous. While on a run along the Delaware River that separates the two towns, Becca may have come across a murder that just occurred and that echoes back to a similar killing that Clint investigated more than 20 years earlier. The new murder puts Becca back in touch with Parker Reed, her teenage crush and best friend, who is now a detective with the state police.
“River Bodies” expertly shows a town divided. Portland residents like to think that if the Scions stay on their side of town, their crimes and violence don’t affect the general population. But the Scions have infected the entire town and just about every person has had some dealing with the members.
Katchur delves deep to explore Becca’s psyche and how she became the woman she is. As a child, she adored her father, but grew to despise his controlling, rigid personality and the way he treated her mother. She never knew that some of his demands were his way of protecting her — and distancing her from the Scions. No wonder she prefers the company of animals, especially her German shepherd, Romy. Katchur skillfully uses the Delaware River as a metaphor to show the division in Becca’s life but doesn’t allow this allusion to overwhelm “River Bodies.”
A return visit with Becca is a must.
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