Excerpt: RIVER BODIES by Karen Katchur
Thomas & Mercer; November 1, 2018
Readers who love small-town, atmospheric crime fiction - this one’s for you! I’m delighted to share with CBTB readers an excerpt from RIVER BODIES by Karen Katchur, available November 1st from Thomas & Mercer! This mystery caught my eye first and foremost for its gorgeous cover (which, in all honesty, might be one of my favorite covers of the year!)—and second for its compelling plot. RIVER BODIES links past and present through two crimes in Portland, Pennsylvania, and follows a woman whose return to her hometown brings long-buried secrets to the surface. RIVER BODIES is the first book in a planned series, so this is the perfect opportunity to dip in and see if this forthcoming suspense novel might be a book for you. In anticipation of RIVER BODIES’ release in just a couple of weeks, you can dip into Chapter One from this intriguing mystery in today’s blog post! Many thanks to the publisher for providing this excerpt.
Without further ado, read on for more information about RIVER BODIES (including plot information and early praise!), and for an excerpt from the book’s first chapter.
ABOUT RIVER BODIES by Karen Katchur:
A body just turned up in the small town of Portland, Pennsylvania. The crime is eerily similar to a twenty-year-old cold case: another victim, brutally murdered, found in the Delaware River. Lead detective Parker Reed is intent on connecting the two murders, but the locals are on lockdown, revealing nothing.
The past meets the present when Becca Kingsley, who returns to Portland to be with her estranged but dying father, runs into Parker, her childhood love. As the daughter of the former police chief, Becca’s quickly drawn into the case. Coming home has brought something ominous to the surface—memories long buried, secrets best kept hidden. Becca starts questioning all her past relationships, including one with a man who’s watched over her for years. For the first time, she wonders if he’s more predator than protector.
In a small town where darkness hides in plain sight, the truth could change Becca’s life—or end it.
Praise for RIVER BODIES:
“Katchur is an engaging writer who ably navigates the dynamics of small-town life and the darkness that lurks beneath…Suspense with a tense family drama at its core.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Suspenseful…[The] gripping ending will leave readers eager for the sequel…” —Publishers Weekly
“Karen Katchur’s River Bodies has it all: a horrific murder, mysteries resurrected from the past, a story line packed with tension, and vivid characters to bring it all to life. A riveting thriller that suspense readers will love.” —Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author
“With a striking sense of place and a foreboding feeling of unease throughout, I was glued to the story. With relationships so complicated and layered that they feel like your own and plot twists that will leave you gasping, River Bodies is an unforgettable read.” —Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author
“Karen Katchur is a master at writing into the dark spaces of our intimate family relationships, and River Bodies is her most stunning work to date.” —Mindy Mejia, author of Everything You Want Me to Be
“River Bodies weaves an engrossing mystery with richly developed characters for an enjoyable, fast-paced read.” —Laura McHugh, award-winning author of The Weight of Blood
“Dark secrets of the past flow into the present in this emotionally resonant, deeply insightful tale of family bonds, betrayal, violence, and redemption. Part engrossing love story, part riveting murder mystery, River Bodies is a must read.” —A. J. Banner, USA Today bestselling author of The Twilight Wife
“Karen Katchur weaves together a twisting braid in River Bodies, a multigenerational tale that dares us to examine not only the secrets we hide but the reasons we hid them in the first place.” —Jenny Milchman, USA Today bestselling author
“River Bodies is a dark, fast-paced, and gripping suspense with characters you won’t forget. It’s filled with old family secrets designed to protect but that instead pull everyone apart. A must read!” —Hannah Mary McKinnon, author of The Neighbors
EXCERPT: RIVER BODIES BY KAREN KATCHUR
Thomas & Mercer; November 1, 2018
He was watching her.
Becca didn’t always have to see him to know that he was there. Sometimes she could just sense him, feel the weight of his stare, aware his eyes were on her as she ran the narrow trail along the river.
He knew her morning routine, timing it right to catch her as she passed by. Under ordinary circumstances, Becca would’ve found it creepy, if not alarming.
But she knew him. He was family. Although he was older than her by more than fifteen years, he’d been a part of her childhood, her adolescence, someone who had always been in the background of her life, as much a part of the scenery as the mountains and river.
This morning as she stopped to catch her breath, she spied him through the autumn trees. He was standing on the other side of the Delaware River, on what had also once been her side, the Pennsylvania side, where she had grown up in the small town of Portland. Now, she lived on the Jersey side, which on most days felt like a whole other country rather than a mere state away, a simple cast across the river.
She placed both hands on her hips, stared at him. He stood motionless a few feet from the rushing rapids. He didn’t attempt to communicate, not even so much as a raised hand. On any other day, she might’ve glanced in his direction, never slowing her pace, taking the path away from the river, cutting deeper into the woods, forgetting about him altogether. On this particular morning, she couldn’t say why she chose to stop and stare.
But she did.
She couldn’t look away.
It was as though there were some outside force at work pulling her toward him. She didn’t believe in coincidences, but rather she believed all things were tied together for one reason or another. And whether Becca liked it or not, she was tied to him.
She stepped closer, stopping two feet from the edge of the riverbank. Romy, her German shepherd, was alert, ears perked, the tips of her paws nearly touching the icy water. The river roared past, the sound of its raging rapids a constant white noise. Across the river the Blue Ridge Mountains loomed, the trees hemorrhaging red and orange leaves.
Becca took another step closer. Her sneakers sank in the mud. There was something in his hand, something small. She was mistaken. There was something on his hand, some kind of glove. He was wearing camouflage shirt and pants, the pants soaked to midthigh from wading in the water. But he didn’t fish. She knew this about him. No, he was a hunter. Her heart ricocheted inside her chest.
“I see you,” she called, but the river’s rapids drowned her voice. He didn’t move. He continued watching her. Then, without warning, he turned and walked up the bank, disappeared behind the trees. Becca lingered, an uneasy feeling working its way up her spine. It was getting late, and she had another two miles of trail to run before she would be home. She had to hurry if she was going to make her first appointment, with a golden retriever that she suspected had swallowed a large piece of a tennis ball. Still, she hesitated for a few seconds more.
When she was certain he was gone, that he wasn’t coming back, she patted Romy’s head.
“Come on,” she said to the dog and took off for the trail once again.
She wound her way over the rocky terrain, careful to watch her step for fear of turning an ankle. She concentrated on her pace, finding rhythm in her legs, matching it with her breathing. The fury of the river’s rapids slowed to a hushed whisper. It wasn’t until she reached the pedestrian bridge, the one that crossed the Delaware River, that she stopped for a second time.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something floating in the water, something with mass. She looked around one of the cement columns, searching the now-calm water, so unlike the white water rapids tumbling over the rocks that made up the riverbed farther up the trail. She didn’t see anything, but something had been there. The uneasy feeling returned. If she walked out on the bridge, she was sure she could find out what it was. But Becca couldn’t bring herself to set one foot on the cement walk, nor could she place a single hand on the green metal rail. The thought of crossing over sent her pulse racing.
Whatever she thought she had seen made her anxious and uncomfortable. She talked herself down, telling herself she was being paranoid. It could’ve been a floating log, a thick, hefty branch. Maybe it was nothing more than a shadow playing tricks on her.
The sun was climbing higher in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful autumn day. She stretched her legs and raced toward home, Romy at her side. With each step, she told herself to forget all about it.
She had other concerns waiting for her.
Becca’s muscles loosened on the last mile home, and the displaced feeling, the disquiet she’d experienced, all but evaporated when she saw Matt’s sedan parked in the driveway. He was home. And wherever he had been the night before didn’t matter, or so she kept telling herself. His business often kept him in New York City long after the sun went down. Matt was a patent attorney, a litigator, a job that required more than a forty-hour workweek, and nagging him about the long hours he kept only pushed him further away.
She stepped through the door of their condo and kicked off her muddy sneakers. Romy darted for her water dish. The shower was running in the master bathroom.
Matt’s cat, Lucky, greeted her from the top of the kitchen counter. “You’re not supposed to be up here,” Becca said and scooped the cat into her arms, kissing the top of its furry head. Romy glanced at the two of them, then returned to drinking, too thirsty to compete for Becca’s attention.
Lucky was a tabby cat, and Becca guessed she was about five years old. She didn’t know for sure since Lucky had been a stray. Matt had inadvertently struck the cat with his car. He’d been driving to work, crossing an intersection, when the cat had darted into the street. Becca had been in her last year of veterinary school, the job in Columbia, New Jersey, already offered to her upon graduation, when Matt had rushed through the doors with the kitten.
He was panicked, his blue eyes glassy. He cradled the small tabby in the crook of his arm where his bicep bulged underneath his white oxford shirt.
“I think I hit her with my car,” he said to Becca, who happened to be at the front desk filling out a chart.
“Okay, bring her in here.” She led Matt and the kitten into one of the examination rooms.
He carefully laid the kitten on top of the examination table, and Becca was struck by his tenderness with the small creature. She listened to the kitten’s heartbeat. It was faint, but it was there. There were no visible injuries.
“Is she yours?” she asked and looked at the kitten’s eyes with a penlight to make sure the pupils were dilating properly.
Matt shook his head. He was too choked up to talk. After a few seconds he said, “She ran into the street. I was pretty sure I missed her. But when I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw her lying on the side of the road.” He put his hands on his head, looked at the ceiling. “God, what if I hit some poor kid’s pet?”
“I think she’s a stray.” The cat wasn’t wearing a collar, and she was bone thin. Her fur had a stray look about it—not necessarily dirty but not necessarily clean either. There were hundreds of strays in Columbia. Becca guessed this one was only a few months old. As a public service, the clinic spayed and neutered what strays they could to manage the population, but they couldn’t catch them all, and besides, when you were dealing with nature and procreation, well, nature always found a way.
“I’m going to take her to x-ray,” she said after feeling around the kitten’s head and neck, pressing her fingers to its abdomen. “Thanks for bringing her in.”
She dismissed him, letting him off the hook. He was a guy who had hit a cat with his car, and he’d felt guilty about it. But judging from her experience, and the fact that this guy was gorgeous and impeccably groomed down to his manicured fingernails and polished shoes, his actions only meant he had a conscience. What he really wanted was for someone to release him of his burden. She didn’t believe a guy like him—good looks, that body, those strong arms and broad shoulders (she noticed them too)—could be the whole package: gorgeous, smart, and kind. Maybe he was stupid. In fact, she thought as she made her way to x-ray, she was surprised he’d even stopped for the kitten at all, figuring someone like him would’ve driven away without a second thought to what lay on the side of the road.
An hour later when she returned to the front desk, the kitten bruised but with no life-threatening injuries, she was surprised to find the guy in the waiting room.
“How is she?” he asked.
“She’s going to be fine,” Becca said, unable to stop her brow from furrowing as she tried to figure out his true motive.
“Oh, thank God,” he said and reached for her hand. “Thank you.” He searched her white lab coat for her name.
“Becca Kingsley,” she said—a bit snootily, she thought later that evening when she was settling down to study for exams.
“Can I take her home?” he asked. “You want to take her home?”
He smiled. “Is that a problem? I mean, you said she was a stray.” “No, it’s not a problem. I guess. Wait here.” She went behind the counter and grabbed the paperwork he would need to fill out if he was claiming the kitten as his. She handed him the clipboard. “We’ll keep her overnight for observation.”
“Good. Great. I’ll pay for whatever she needs.”
When he handed the clipboard back with the paperwork completed, she couldn’t help but glance at his name, Matt Goode.
“Thank you, Becca,” he said and left.
“Who was that?” Vicky, one of the surgical techs, whistled after Matt had walked out the door.
“That was the owner of one very lucky kitten,” she said.
Matt returned the next day for the kitten, later naming her Lucky, and asked Becca to dinner.
She turned him down, claimed she wasn’t hungry, not trusting his sincerity. She couldn’t imagine what they had in common anyway. But he showed up at the clinic again two days later, and again he asked her out, this time for coffee, to discuss her thoughts on catnip. She laughed, couldn’t think of an excuse to say no.
Becca put Lucky down on the floor. The shower stopped, and she made her way to the master bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed. Romy jumped up next to her. Becca began checking the dog for ticks, busying herself while she waited. Whenever she spent any time in the woods or near the river, she checked herself and the dog for pests. There was a large deer population that carried the parasite. Although Romy was given flea and tick treatments regularly, one could never be too careful. Matt stepped out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. She concentrated hard on not looking at him. Romy kept her head in Becca’s lap. The dog knew something was up. “Don’t be mad,” Matt said.
When she didn’t reply, he said, “Please.”
She’d waited up all night for him to come home, checking her phone for messages, worried something horrible had happened, worried nothing had happened. Any other woman might’ve yelled, fought, clawed, demanded an explanation. But not Becca. Compliant Becca stayed silent, playing her part so well it had become instinctive.
Matt sat next to her, close but not touching. His skin smelled clean and shower fresh. It took everything she had not to give herself over to him, to tell him she wasn’t mad. She was glad he was okay and nothing terrible, awful, had happened to him. But on some level, she also understood it was her distance, her ability to turn him away, that kept him coming back.
Although at times, like now, it was a struggle to keep a part of her separate, aloof, when all she wanted was to succumb to his every desire. He was so beautiful, his jet-black hair and ice-blue eyes, his sculpted body and lean waist. Maybe she was selfish to want to keep him for herself, locked inside their condominium and away from the temptations that seemed to be waiting around every corner whenever he walked out the door.
“I lost track of time. You know how it can be after a big win. We took our clients out to celebrate.” He hesitated. “It really was a big win.”
He was quiet, waiting for her to congratulate him, tell him she forgave him. But she wouldn’t let him off that easy.
He added, “I know I should’ve called. I’m sorry. I promise it won’t happen again.”
At the very least you could’ve texted, she thought but didn’t say. She didn’t want to sound needy. Instead, she gave a terse nod. It wasn’t the first time he’d stayed out all night without phoning or the first time she’d given him the cold shoulder the morning after. It wasn’t the first time he’d showered off the scent of another woman.
Excerpted from River Bodies by Karen Katchur. Copyright (c) 2018 by Karen Katchur, on sale November 1, 2018. All rights reserved.
Series: Northampton County (Book 1)
Hardcover: 290 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (November 1, 2018)
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