From the publisher—
The swamps and bayous around Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas have always been dark and mysterious, but on this summer day two boys stumble across the remains of a baby girl, headless and badly decomposed. Hick Blackburn, a reluctant sheriff with a troubled past is called to the scene. With nothing to go on except the baby’s race and sex, the task of discovering who she is and how she died challenges all of Hick’s investigative skills. But Hick faces a deeper challenge. The vision of the infant has left him shattered, a reminder of a war crime he has tried to lock away, a crime that has begun to eat away at the edges of his life, destroying him one relationship at a time.
With the aid of his deputies, Hick will begin to piece together his investigation, an investigation that will lead him to question everything. As he is forced to examine the town he grew up in, he will come to terms with the notion that within each of us lays the propensity for both good and evil. His investigation will turn up lies and ignorance, scandal and deceit, and the lengths a mother will go in order to hide her shame.
In World War I, they called it “shell shock” and, in World War II, the term was “combat fatigue”. Today, we know the condition as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, while many people outside of combat situations suffer from PTSD, war is undoubtedly a primary cause. In Beneath Still Waters, two characters experience PTSD for different reasons but both stem from their service in World War II and this becomes a distinct focus of the story.
When I first heard about this novel, I was prepared for the usual kind of mystery but, within the first few pages, I knew this was going to be something totally different and, quite frankly, Ms. Graham kept me glued to the pages till the very end. Yes, there is a death and a quite horrific one at that, and it will need to be solved but it’s the young sheriff, Hick Blackburn, who took me so much by surprise. Unlike nearly every other law enforcer out there in the crime fiction field, Hick is a young man who not only doesn’t really want to be sheriff but who is actually bad at the job. His reactions to certain situations are more than puzzling; as an example, he initially thinks there should be no investigation because he wonders what good will come from it, that it might be better to let things be. This is most assuredly not the way most sheriffs would look at things but it certainly got my attention and I was more drawn in when I began to realize he was making some pretty major mistakes even considering the times (1948).
Woven throughout the contemporary story are nightmares that Hick is having from his war years, nightmares that have led him to break off his engagement and pull away from life in general. Has the death of the baby made things worse and, if so, why? Meanwhile, another young veteran, Tobe, also seems unable to deal with his return home although his struggles show up in drunken gunwaving, putting his wife and himself in peril.
Recently, I read a book in which worldbuilding was decidedly lacking but that is not the case here. Ms. Graham had me feeling the heat, the humidity, the squishy mud in the slough and I could easily visualize the post-war small Southern town with its insularity and its disbelief that such a crime could happen in Cherokee Crossing. Each character, even those considered secondary, is finely drawn and there was never any confusion as to whose voice I was hearing.
As for the mystery, the simple solution was easy to see fairly early on but Ms. Graham was not satisfied with a simple solution and the complete answer is disturbing and says a lot about the nature of human failings. I cannot recommend Beneath Still Waters highly enough for readers who look for a good mystery surrounded by a psychological study and this will be on my list of best books read in 2016.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.
About the Author
Cynthia A. Graham has a B.A. in English from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. She was the winner of several writing awards during her academic career and her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, the Missouri Writer’s Guild, and Sisters In Crime. Beneath Still Waters is her first novel.
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