Alice Hoffman beautifully choreographs the battle between nature and civilisation to mirror the action in her mesmerising 13th novel The River King
. Although set in the contemporary, three block-long village of Haddan, Massachusetts, its enchanting gothic flavour makes it feel like a much earlier era. Haddan School, built perilously close to the river in 1858, "had been fashioned out of river rock, grey slabs flecked with mica", and the cupboards have a "distinctly weedy odour". The school's folklore matches its mid-19th century beginnings with tales of blood-seeped roses, a hanging from the rafters and people lead astray by the "pale green light rising from the river each evening" into "fields rife with late-blooming asters and milkweed".
The four outsiders at the novel's heart are brought together by the dramatic forces of love and death: two new students, Gus, a rebellious, hapless loner; Carlin, a beautiful swimmer from Florida; Betsy, the unconventional photography teacher trapped in a conventional engagement, and Abel, the local cop who comes to the school to investigate a drowning. After a tragic flood, the novel picks up pace and switches from gothic horror to detective story with hints of The X Files. A ghost appears in Betsy's photos and leaves mementoes from the river all around the school. When the drowned corpse is found to have faecal matter in its lungs in a cleaned-up river, the plot takes on echoes of Chinatown and is no less riveting for that.
Although Hoffman misses some of the menace and narrative drive of a true thriller, her portrait of a secluded world, which has developed its own secrets, rules and inability to confront evil, weaves a murky and disturbing spell. --Cherry Smyth
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The River King
is proof that [Alice Hoffman] just gets better and better" (London Times
"Alice Hoffman is simply brilliant" (Daily Mail
"The language rewards, as the story engrosses" (Independent
"Shrewd, intelligent, kindly and humane" (Irish Times
"It can be hard to find an example of good old-fashioned storytelling these days, but storytelling, refreshingly, is Alice Hoffman's strength" (New York Times Book Review