Beneath Still Waters - Cynthia A. Graham
The swamps and bayous around Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas have always been dark and mysterious, but on this summer day two boys stumble across the remains of a baby girl, headless and badly decomposed. Hick Blackburn, a reluctant sheriff with a troubled past is called to the scene. With nothing to go on except the baby s race and sex, the task of discovering who she is and how she died challenges all of Hick s investigative skills. But Hick faces a deeper challenge. The vision of the infant has left him shattered, a reminder of a war crime he has tried to lock away, a crime that has begun to eat away at the edges of his life, destroying him one relationship at a time.
With the aid of his deputies, Hick will begin to piece together his investigation, an investigation that will lead him to question everything. As he is forced to examine the town he grew up in, he will come to terms with the notion that within each of us lays the propensity for both good and evil. His investigation will turn up lies and ignorance, scandal and deceit, and the lengths a mother will go in order to hide her shame."
It only has 215 pages but inside those few pages is one of the best stories I have ever read. Right away on page one we meet town sheriff, Hick Blackburn, on the scene of a crime that just doesn't happen in Cherokee Crossing. Two boys fishing stumble across (literally) the body of a headless infant. Nobody knows who she belongs to or how she got there, but this crime has catapulted Hick back into memories of his time in Belgium fighting in the war.
While it doesn't shift perspective (just a couple of times, but not every other chapter like most books do), it really feels like two different stories happening at once. We have current Hick trying to solve the murder of this innocent baby with almost no clues at all except for a genetic anomaly in the babies hands. He needs to find the mother of the baby, possibly the father, but ultimately the murderer. The baby was alive when it went into the swamp because it had sand and water in it's lungs so right away, any mother is horrified and you're hooked- who could or would do this to a newborn baby? Then we have war time Hick who too young to understand the long term ramifications of war, finds himself in the middle of a horrific battle with no experience and he makes a mistake out of fear rather than logic. It haunts him to this day and the murder of this baby brings it all rushing back.
And then... we have a love story. Because before Hick went to war, he was engaged to his life long love, Maggie. When he came back, obviously suffering from the mental anguish war gives a young man, he breaks it off with Maggie, leaving her heartbroken. She doesn't give up hope and she keeps trying to break through what is eating at Hick, sure that if she could, she'd have her old love back where he belongs.
This book hooked me immediately when I started and I absolutely could not put it down. It captures everything right about the south, it gets you in the head of a war returned soldier, and you ache for this baby. Once all of the puzzle pieces come together the story becomes even more tragic and you find yourself, like Hick, at odds of what is right in the law and what someone believes in their heart to be the best decision. I cannot praise this book enough- it's such a fast read and I know you'll absolutely love it. It really reminds me of a Christina Baker Kline novel, actually. Just a masterfully done weaving of the story lines so you never feel lost or like you're having to keep too much straight in your head for it to make sense. Absolutely one of my top ten books of 2016 so far. Easily.
You can get your own copy of Beneath Still Waters on Amazon, it's a worthy buy.