“River’s Bend” is a strong Southern Gothic suspense novel that begins on a gripping note of intrigue and steadily ratchets up the tension throughout the development of the plot and leaves the reader satisfied (but depressed that the book had to end).
Set in Mississippi around 30 years after the War of Northern Aggression, handsome and wealthy Rafe Stone visits the home of businessman Joseph Collander hoping to buy the majestic River’s Bend home. Mr. Collander has no intention of selling the place; he has more pressing matters on his hands. He has an orphaned niece, Delilah, who has drawn the eye of his daughter’s intended and tells Rafe he can have the place for free if he’ll marry her.
Delilah is a veritable beauty and a spitfire. The reader feels nothing but sympathy for her as she has become the Collander family scapegoat through no fault of her own and wrestles throughout the course of the novel with her desire to belong to and be loved by another with the emotionally safer course of going into business for herself. A secret family tragedy that taints her name with scandal becomes apparent when Rafe takes her to Natchez to live in River’s Bend.
It is the looming phantom that is River’s Bend which haunts and drives the plot of the book and serves further to heighten the tension between newlyweds Rafe and Delilah. River’s Bend, which began as a humble cabin nearly two centuries before and grew to a magnificent showplace replete with tales of misdeeds, towers above Rafe and Delilah as well as the other colorful citizens of Natchez. It reeks of murder, adultery, and treason–not to mention whispers of stolen gold. No buyer has managed to live there long before fleeing the premises. As Rafe and Delilah investigate each other’s secretive origins and struggle to trust one another, the shadows and noises at River’s Bend loom over them and manage to cast doubt even at relatively peaceful times.
As Rafe and Delilah get to know one another, delightful antics ensue. Their conversations range from distrustful to flirty to angry as they waltz about the uncomfortable dance floor of marriage to a complete stranger. It would also be remiss not to mention the sexual tension between the two. The chemistry between this couple is evident in every conversation and every spat. Delilah, who has a history of feeling abandoned, experiences disappointment and feelings of rejection that are nearly palpable when Rafe decides to try to be respectful of her and let them get to know one another before they consummate the marriage. The language regarding their relationship as it progresses is lush and invigorating:
She hadn’t known how to kiss a few mornings ago in New Orleans, but had been
game to learn, and he’d spent the next three days helping her perfect the technique.
She’d mastered it now, better than any whore on Bourbon street, and he was
eager to teach her more in the way of a whore’s tricks.
Rafe’s and Delilah’s sparring comes to a delightful head against the ghosts and mysteries of Riverside, to an ending that feels all the more complete for the two coming clean about their respective identities. The reader also garners closure regarding the scandals of the house, closure that is well-rooted in Mississippi history. Well-researched and with plenty of romance and suspense, River’s Bend is a novel that I wish I had known about sooner. This book is what I’ve been hoping for since I last read “Steamboat Gothic” by Frances Parkinson Keyes. I have already picked up Camellia Creek, also by Mrs. Russell, in the hope of making some new friends with her richly developed characters.
Swing by the Loblolly Writer’s House to learn more about Mrs. Russell’s novels and educate yourself regarding the world of self-publishing.