“Those Across the River” by Christopher Buehlman (Ace, 2011)

Those Across the River
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In his debut novel, Christopher Buehlman does a great job of keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, with a gripping plot that will have the reader hooked to find out where it is going and what is the big story behind it all.  Set during the 1930s, Buehlman keeps his language fresh, his characters interesting, and his history and mystery both compelling and terrifying.

Frank Nichols is leaving his failing academic life for the small town of Whitbrow, Georgia, where he has been bequeathed a house he was demanded not to live in, but just to sell.  Nichols has little choice and other ideas, moving into the house with his beautiful wife: she will teach at the local school, while he will work on a book about his family and the history of the old estate his family used to live on: the Savoyard Plantation.  Frank and Eudora begin fitting in nicely, enjoying the small town feel, and making friends with the locals.  As Frank learns more of his family history, he is warned it is a story best left untold for the bad things that went on there, and something he really doesn’t want to dig into and learn about.

There is the strange regular ritual of the running of the pigs, where the two largest prized pigs of the town are released into the wild, across the river.  No one really knows why it is done, just that it is a ritual going back for generations.  And even though it’s been going on for many years, the pigs are never found in the woods.  Then when the town decides to stop the ritual – since times a very hard and everyone is struggling to get by – bad things begin to happen to the town of Whitbrow and its people.  Before long, Frank and Eudora feel they have made a very big mistake coming here, but it may already be too late.

While set during the Great Depression, Those Across the River blends a combination of interesting history with that great, old, creepy town feel where everything seems nice and ordinary, but soon turns into something far more horrifying.  The characters feel real in how they act and interact, and while the eventual revelation of what is behind all this turns out be something many people know all too well, Buehlman nevertheless keeps the story going at a great pace, and readers will be kept reading to the very last page.

Originally written on November 10, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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