Verdict: While the back-and-forth might sound tough to follow, it’s actually quite suspenseful. It breaks up the narrative and turns "The Mill River Recluse" into a real page-turner.
The Mill River Recluse opens with a mystery: An old woman commits suicide on a snowy night. Who is she? Why did she cut herself off from the town below?
The remainder of the novel alternates between two stories. One follows the goings-on in modern-day Mill River. We meet Claudia, the teacher determined to start anew after losing a life-changing amount of weight; her love interest, cop and single father Kyle Hansen, who left Boston to raise his daughter somewhere safe; Father O’Brien, the parish priest who’s hiding a lifelong sin. The second is the sad-but-slightly-uplifting tale of Mary’s life, as she deals with crippling social anxiety and the emotional fallout from an abusive marriage.
While the back-and-forth might sound tough to follow, it’s actually quite suspenseful. It breaks up the narrative and turns The Mill River Recluse into a real page-turner. The author doles out her information about Mary carefully, and with every chapter break we’re left wanting more. That said, this is no hard-edged suspense novel. Kyle and Claudia would never appear in a Steig Larsson novel, or even a “Law and Order” episode. The novel is sentimental and sweet and sometimes veers over the line into treacly. But characters like Father O’Brien — a kindly man who nonetheless sometimes resents Mary’s neediness and compulsively filches spoons from his parishioners — keep the novel compelling.
Reviewed by Kelly Faircloth