A Bend in the River
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herring Press, June 2020
From the author—
In 1968 two young Vietnamese sisters flee to Saigon after their village on the Mekong River is attacked by American forces and burned to the ground. The only survivors of the brutal massacre that killed their family, the sisters struggle to survive but become estranged, separated by sharply different choices and ideologies. Mai ekes out a living as a GI bar girl, but Tam’s anger festers, and she heads into jungle terrain to fight with the Viet Cong. For nearly ten years, neither sister knows if the other is alive. Do they both survive the war? And if they do, can they mend their fractured relationship? Or are the wounds from their journeys too deep to heal? In a stunning departure from her crime thrillers, Libby Fischer Hellmann delves into a universal story about survival, family, and the consequences of war.
I’ve been enjoying Libby Fischer Hellmann‘s books for a lot of years now and have never been disappointed but I think she’s gone a step further with A Bend in the River. Her strength has been largely in crime fiction of the suspense and/or thriller sort with series and standalones but, every now and then, Ms. Hellmann vectors off in a different direction to very good effect. This is one of those times.
The US finally left Vietnam in 1975 but the consequences, good and bad, of that war still linger today. This story focuses on a period of time before and after our exit and looks at what happened in one instance to innocent survivors of a deadly attack. These sisters, 17-year-old Tâm and Mai, three years younger, are suddenly ripped from a semi-normal life to one of vast uncertainty and choices that must be made. Those choices take the girls down separate paths, one on each side of the conflict that has affected their lives for far too many years and, now, they’re each estranged from the one remaining family member who knows her best.
To many of the younger generations, the Vietnam War is a distant memory, a section in the history books. To me and others of my generation, those of us who either fought there or waited at home, this story is a stark remembrance of physical and emotional pain, of choices made by individuals and governments—not just the US—and I thank Ms. Hellmann for reminding us that the devastations of war don’t just drift away when the troops move on.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2020.
Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.
She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, three times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.
Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.
In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors. She also hosts both an internet TV and radio interview show and conducts writing workshops at libraries and other venues.
Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.
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A Bend in the River