"Gone to See the River Man" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Cemetery Dance Publications
Written by Kristopher Triana
2020, 145 pages, Fiction
Released on 12th March 2020
It’s incredible to comprehend how such a dark book can be inspired by such a beautiful melancholic folksong. In both the opening and closing acknowledgements Kristopher Triana thanks the late English singer/songwriter who penned the melody referenced in the title: “...deep thanks to Nick Drake for his sombre song ‘River Man’, which was the launching impetus for this cosmic horror.” He quotes this passage, which closes the song:
Gonna to see the river man
Gonna to tell him all I can
About the ban
On feeling free
If he tells me all he knows
About the way his river flows
I don’t suppose
It’s meant for me
Oh, how they come and go
Cult singer Nick Drake’s sad and whimsical ‘River Man’ is a million miles away from the monstrous interpretation which appears in this powerfully written short novel which is so gripping it could be read in one sitting. To avoid spoilers, I will keep it vague; reading it without too much foreknowledge only adds to its overall power. Kristopher Triana is known as a ‘Splatterpunk’ author, however, I this is not quite that; yes, it is shocking in parts, but the threat of violence is stronger than the physical blow. This is a major plus, as it genuinely ramps up the tension as the characters head into a place of darkness which does not require blood. I previously reviewed his clever thriller, Shepherd of the Black Sheep, which is completely different to this and shows the versatility of the author.
Much of Gone to See the River Man takes the shape of a journey and the reader is never too sure of what awaits at the final destination, with the ‘cosmic horror’ element the author refers to remaining elusive until into the final stages. This is one of those books that even after reading 80% or more, I did not have the faintest idea how it was going to end with the shrouding of some of the plot twists, including a few real shockers; truly outstanding. What is waiting at the end of the journey? There will be no spoilers from me, but the appearance of the elusive River Man is well worth the wait.
The story is built upon two split narratives around 25 years apart, the focus of both is Lori, who is just about to turn 40 in the present-day story. Lori has a rather morbid hobby, she writes to serial killers and has an impressive collection of letters from previous correspondences. When the story begins, she is on the way to prison to meet Edmund Cox. Lori is in love with Edmund, even though she knows he has tortured and killed many women, with a special fondness for those from the Far East. As the story unfolds, some of the letters, written by both Lori and Edmund, are dropped into the story. When the pair meet, Edmund gives Lori a mission, or a test, and this lies at the dark core of Gone to See the River Man.
Whilst Lori embarks her quest we also head back into her childhood to when she was around fifteen and the middle of three children. What happens in the past has a major part in what shapes the present and how Lori ends up in her current predicament, with both strands complementing each other perfectly. These teenage scenes are fascinating, once again the shrouding is superb, as everything moves into a shocking direction as the secrets are slowly, almost innocently, revealed by Lori. Her elder and more popular sister, Abby, is also dropped into the action with her younger brother Pete, both of which have crucial roles. The three-way sibling dynamics are so convincingly handled you’ll be looking for clues which might have sowed the seeds in shaping Lori into the woman who takes pleasure in sending dirty letters to serial killers.
Gone to See the River Man is mostly written in the third person from Lori’s point of view, but does occasionally jump to her sister Abby and back and forwards through the two time periods the story is set in. This is a deliberately jarring technique which keeps the reader on their toes with little being spoon-fed or telegraphed. Also, as Lori’s journey gets more dangerous, we begin to see how fractured her soul truly is and why. The ending is brutal, brilliant and totally unforgettable.
I rarely give 5/5 for reviews, but this is such an impressive piece of writing it will rank amongst the best of 2020. You’re unlikely to come across a better example of how to build dread over a relatively short page-count, with the split narratives both holding very different types of shocks and twists. You’re going to feel that you’re on the river with Lori, you might even get seasick, piggybacking upon her guilt in an exceptionally intense and bruising character study. At times you will almost certainly be forced to look away and I don’t blame you. Outstanding, a novel with genuine bite.
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