Wednesday, August 17, 2011

River Walker by Cate Culpepper

Publisher:                Bold Strokes Books

This may be the perfect book.  It's told in a beautifully straight forward manner with no wasted scenes or distractions, the characters are compelling and there are no typographical or editing errors.

Two women are linked by the type of grief that kills the soul and one woman is determined to save them both.  Grady Wrenn is a cultural anthropologist who has come to New Mexico State University to teach.  Grady is haunted by her past and takes long walks along the Rio Grande at night when she can't sleep.  On one of these walks she has two startling encounters.  She meets a woman lying naked in the water and she hears the unbearable sound of another woman moaning and screeching in great pain.  Grady eventually learns that the woman is Elena Montalva, a local spiritual healer, and the suffering soul is a mythical creature known as La Llorona who wanders rivers looking for her lost children and preying on abusive men.  Only these men should be able to hear La Llorona, but because Grady can, Elena sees this as the opportunity she's been looking for to cure the spirit and stop the murderous rampage that always accompanies her visits.  While trying to find a way to confront the ghost, Grady and Elena must deal with hostile people in the town who blame the deaths on Elena and her mother.  If Elena can work the right magic, she can heal both Grady and La Llorona and try to provide a happy ending for all of them.

This is a supernatural story that doesn't feel supernatural.  The story is told so subtly and with such excellent character development that it's easy to believe that all of these individuals actually exist.  The reader is gradually drawn into the story and the spell it weaves becomes as powerful for the reader as for the characters.  The suspense mounts gradually, so that this never becomes a horror story, but there is a sense of horror around what happens to the women and the spirit.  Culpepper uses an interesting technique in contrasting Elena, who believes totally in the spiritual world, with Grady, who has lost her belief in just about everything.  Grady struggles to remain a scientist in the face of something that she can't avoid and she can't resist how Elena makes her feel.  The love story develops slowly and realistically instead of being a mad dash into a bedroom that so often occurs.

River Walker is a story that is simply pleasurable to read.  Even people who may not usually enjoy supernatural stories will find this one is hard to put down.

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