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by Amy Stuart
Touchstone, July 2018
352 pages
ISBN: 1501151576

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Amy Stuart's second entry into the life of her protagonist Clare O'Dey takes her to a rural home called High River for the river that runs through the property. The title STILL WATER has nothing to do with the river for that river is higher than it's been in years because of a new dam upstream and it has deep and treacherous currents rushing over its rocky bottom. Instead, the words "still water" seem to point to what Clare and the other women gathered at the shelter for abused women really long for: a safe, still, peaceful place to stop and rest and gather strength to plan realistically for their futures. Helen Haines, the owner of High River, has inherited the property and enough money to take in the women who find her for as long as they need to stay. She has only one hard and fast rule safety depends on absolute secrecy.

But the secrecy has been breached by the disappearance of one of the women, Sally Proulx, and her two- year-old son, William. The local police are combing the area for clues to what happened to them, especially searching the river because one witness has said that Sally went into it.

As time passes, the search spreads further afield for no bodies have been found snagged anywhere. If little William tumbled in and his mother went in to save him, they should either have emerged alive or be somewhere downstream in the water.

As the search expands in scope, so do the secrets. The women are not just afraid of being found by their abusers but of having the secrets each of them struggles to keep about her past life made public. And most of the other characters also are hiding things they don't want anyone to know about.

Clare herself is at High River under false pretenses. While she really is fleeing a violent husband, she works with Malcolm Boon (a man who searches for missing women for people who hire him) and has come to High River as a detective, presenting herself to everyone there under the name Clare O'Brien. Her own hidden past as a drug addict with blackout issues is definitely not worse than the hidden pasts of some of the others.

Too many of the characters well, all but one are so troubled and flawed that what they may be fleeing is themselves. This so overbalances the novel that it is hard to care about any of them. The greatest mystery of all lies in Clare's relationship with Boon. He does not seem to have anything to do with any of the investigating and is mostly absent from the scene. Why Clare would choose to continue to accompany Boon and be sent into one dangerous situation after another when she has been offered real and realistic options for changing her identity and really becoming untraceable that is unfathomable.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, July 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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