Book Review: Deep Creek by Dana Hand

A friend loaned me this book—it looks like an ex-library book that she purchased at a sale. I’ll be honest. I started it when I was on maternity leave. I couldn’t get into it. I thought maybe I was too tired, so I read several other books and came back to it. It still didn’t quite hold my interest.  

Still, I like the time period—the 1880s and the balance of freedom seekers and government, of lawlessness and social customs—so I forced myself to plod through it. I have read several books in the meantime. I’ll get to why I don’t think it resonated with me in just a bit.  

Deep Creek is a mystery that takes place around the Idaho Territory in 1887. Thirty Chinese gold miners are found murdered, and it’s up to a small group to investigate their deaths: Joe, a lawman; Lee Loi, a company investigator; and Grace Sundown, a mountain guide of Native American and French descent. It’s inspired by the massacre of Chinese miners in Hells Canyon in the same year.  

Reading the novel, my favorite character was Grace Sundown because she was so mysterious. She arrives in place of her husband, and insists on being the party’s guide, despite some initial misgivings about having a female guide as they travel the Pacific Northwest to track the killers. But my curiosity about her background had its limits. We don’t find out about her actual past until much later—part 3. By that time, I had sort of stopped caring. I wanted to know more about her earlier on. Once I found about her past, Joe became my favorite character because of how he relates to her past and how his past plays into it all.  

My problem with the story was in the telling. The novel is written by historians, and I felt like they probably had a strong grasp on the historical time period, but the writing did not allow sufficient details to come through. With the exception of a few small details, I felt like this could have taken place at any time. I craved more imagery and details that would help me imagine the time period. I had to rely on stereotypes and prior knowledge, which is always dangerous.  

The story could have benefitted from a strong point of view. It switched among the main characters, but I never felt allowed to get too deep into any one perspective. This kept me distanced from the story. I have worked with historical writers before, and I understand there is a hesitancy to put too much of a perspective on a work, even when it’s historical fiction, because there are no journals or details in existence to justify such a deep perspective. But for me, that is why I pick up fiction: to see what one person imagines might be going through another person’s head.  

I wanted to care more about Grace’s fight for women’s equality and equality for more immigrants, as both of these are important issues for me. But because of the shallow perspective through which the story was told, I was never able to feel the true frustration of it all.  

I did appreciate the trial at the end, and the ending: I wished for more of the literary feel that came in the last chapter to be interspersed throughout the whole novel.  

CORGICAPERS1_VMULLER_FINALDon’t forget to enter my giveaway: To celebrate summer reading, I’m running a giveaway. The winner will receive the used copy of Pirates Past Noon, an autographed copy of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, and a code for a free download of The Scarred Letter. You can enter using the rafflecopter link here.

In the meantime, good luck, happy summer, and happy reading!

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