REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride. — The Gipsy Girl’s Dream From “The Bohemian Girl”, an opera composed by Ireland’s Michael Balfe; libretto by Alfred Bunn
* * *
To paraphrase Gilbert & Sullivan, a reviewer’s lot is not an happy one these days, as talented writers produce novels loaded with spoilers.
A good example is “The Mill River Recluse” (Ballantine Trade Paperback Original, 416 pages, $15.00, with an online Random House Reader’s Circle book club guide) by Darcie Chan. The author sought in vain for a publisher and ended up producing her own eBook. After it sold more than 700,000 copies, Chan found a publisher for a print edition, which will be released for sale on Tuesday, June 17.
Growing up on a Michigan farm and a small town in Illinois myself, I identified immediately with Chan’s fictional Mill River, Vermont, not far from Rutland. The little town is populated with memorable people who have secrets a plenty, making the reviewer’s task difficult in the extreme.
Widow Mary McAllister tops the list of people with secrets. Living alone in a hilltop marble mansion that was the wedding present when she married Patrick McAllister in 1940, she’s the recluse in the title. Her only friend is the town’s Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael O’Brien, a man with secrets of his own. I’ll only say they involve spoons, the kind you use for eating ice cream. Father O’Brien, not much older than Mary, officiated at her wedding and has remained a friend ever since.
Elementary school teacher Claudia Simon moved to Mill River to start a life as a new slim woman. She was an overweight teacher in upstate New York and re-invents herself. She’s the teacher of Rowen Hansen, the daughter of Mill River police officer Ryan Hansen, who left Boston after his wife’s death to find a quiet life for himself and his daughter. He soon gets more than he bargained for in Mill River.
“The Mill River Recluse” grabbed my attention from the beginning and didn’t let go until I learned the final secret Mary McAllister was keeping to herself. Not even Father O’Brien knew what it was.
This debut novel is a genre-breaking thriller with romantic overtones that should appeal to both men and women. Since it involves profanity, I’d keep it away from young children, but teens, especially those who love horses, will enjoy it. Mary was a dedicated horse person, and met Patrick when he visited her father’s farm to buy a horse.
When Father O’Brien reveals some of Mary’s secrets at the Mill River annual town meeting, everybody in the town changes their view of the reclusive old lady.
But wait, there’s more: In August Darcie Chan returns with a brand-new novel “The Mill River Redemption” that continues the story of the town, skillfully weaving together themes of family, self-discovery and forgiveness. A sneak-peek look at the book appears at the end of “The New River Recluse.” I look forward to reading and reviewing it, but I promise not to give away any of Mill River’s new secrets! Discover them for yourself in an author you’ll find to be a new talent on the publishing scene.
About the author
Darcie Chan is the bestselling author of the eBook sensation “The Mill River Recluse” and the upcoming novel “The Mill River Redemption”. She has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. For fourteen years, Chan worked as an attorney drafting environmental and natural resource legislation for the U.S. Senate. She now writes fiction full-time and lives north of New York City with her husband and son. Her website: http://www.darciechan.com.