Book Talk: Wolfe — ‘Beneath Blackwater River’
I’ve only read two of Leslie Wolfe’s novels, but she’s already one of my favorite authors. Her latest offering is “Beneath Blackwater River” (2021, 335 pages). Like the previous book in her new series, this thriller is too intriguing to put down. (See my review of “The Girl from Silent Lake,” Nov. 17, 2021.)
This is Wolfe’s second novel featuring Kay Sharp, a former FBI profiler who takes a job as a detective for the sheriff’s department in her home town of Mt. Chester, Calif. And there are more twists and turns than one would ever expect to find in a town of 3,823 people.
The story opens with Malia wearing a flower in her hair as she hikes with Tobias to a cave, just behind the waterfall at Blackwater River. As Toby takes a knee in the foot-deep water to propose, a hand touches his leg. The light from his cell phone reveals a young woman’s body, weighted down by a large rock, “her hair drifting freely in the water as if flowing in the wind, her beautiful face pristine, her red lips gently parted, as if to let her final breath escape.”
There is a hand-carved wooden locket around the neck of the corpse, a seventeen-year-old girl. The locket is identical to that worn by three-year-old Rose Harrelson who went missing 14 years earlier. If you do the math and consider the uniqueness of the locket, you might conclude that Rose is the victim. But, where has she been for the past 14 years?
Then, the ME’s office determines through DNA analysis that the dead teen is actually Alyssa Caldwell, potential heiress to the substantial Caldwell estate. When Kay and her partner Detective Elliot Young are assigned the case, Kay realizes that they need to solve the cold kidnapping case before they can unravel the mystery of the current murder.
Then, just to complicate matters, Elliot is pulled from that case to search for Kirsten, another teenaged girl who has fled an abusive homelife in which “dad” and his friends hold her down to sniff cocaine off her naked belly.
Mom, who works while the men play, doesn’t believe Kirsten’s complaints.
As Kirsten attempts to hitch rides to San Francisco, where she hopes to make an honest living, she is picked up by a sympathetic woman who drops her on the interstate in California. There, a well-spoken man picks her up and offers to drive her the rest of the way.
Having two cases disrupts the partnership between Kay and Elliot, who get together only sporadically throughout much of the novel. And they are most effective when they can compare notes on the cases they work.
When I closed the cover of Ms. Wolfe’s book, I wondered why I hadn’t discovered her earlier works. That’s one of the reasons that I use this space to try to introduce writers like Leslie Wolfe, Joe Ide, M.M. Chouinard, Karen Cleveland, and Glen Erik Hamilton, all wonderful authors whose debut novels have been published in recent years.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.