RIVER BODIES by Karen Katchur is part mystery and part police procedural. It is not a “who done it,” but a “why done it” as the characters must come to grips with two brutal murders that occurred two decades apart. There are no solid lines, with a blurring between the good and evil side of each character. But the author successfully weaves in relationships, family dynamics, and loyalty that only enhance the story.

The book examines how loyal should someone be and whether the choices people make are to protect others. Each character looks inward reflecting on what they did to survive. The heroine is Becca Kingsley, a veterinarian, who lives across the river from the Portland, Pennsylvania town she grew up in. She decides to return to spend time with her dying father, who was once Portland’s police chief. Because of his infidelity to her mom she became estranged from him. Now she wants to make amends and to get answers to the memories and long buried secrets. Everything seems to be coming to the surface after the discovery of a man brutally murdered that is tied into a previous murder. The author explores with flashbacks Becca’s teen years that include her relationship with her parents, their separation, and her friendship with Parker Reed, now the present State Homicide Investigative Detective handling the case of the murdered victim found in the river. She realizes the two murders are connected and that she is somehow involved. Becca starts questioning all her past relationships: the man she is living with has infidelities, her father who sent her away to boarding school, Parker whom she wants to renew her romantic feelings with, and a man who’s watched over her for years, that could be more predator than protector.

Readers will experience a wild ride with the river’s currents, both metaphorically and physically. This is a tension-filled, fast-paced novel that effectively blends together a horrific murder, a mysterious backstory, and vivid characters.

Elise Cooper:  Where did you get the idea for the story?

Karen Katchur:  My father was a state trooper and even though he didn’t talk to me about his job, I still heard and absorbed things.  I remember hearing of a case where a man was pulled from the Delaware River and gutted like a deer.  It really scared me.  Then years later, when I was married, in my husband’s small town, a mother and daughter were also found gutted like a deer.  I wondered if this is the type of crime that happens in a hunting community and what is the impact on those around them.  I decided to write a story based on this.

EC:  Why a state trooper?

KK:  They can handle multiple counties and can travel everywhere in Pennsylvania.  This allows me a lot of flexibility.  I am able to set up each story in different small towns.

EC:  Becca’s pet dog Romy is very cute?

KK:  She is based on my good friend’s dog who is so cool.  She and I run with her dog.  I would describe her as a German Shepherd that is a guard dog who is not aggressive, but protective. I also have a dog, but since she is a retriever, she is very submissive.

EC:  Why a veterinarian?

KK:  She is actually a vet surgeon.  I wondered if there is something in a person’s personality that allows them to take a knife to another living thing, even if it is to save them.  It fits into the plotline where the murderer kills with a knife and guts the victim.

EC:  How would you describe Becca?

KK:  She sees goodness in people and chooses to avoid confrontation.  Intelligent, kind, and always wants to do the right thing. She had a hard time understanding why the killer did what he did because growing up she saw the other side of him.  Her brain and heart competed.  Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector.

EC:  Knowing what her father did how could she stay with Matt who was not faithful?

KK:  In all my books there is the theme of children who question the choices of their parents.  Becca did not understand why her father fooled around on her mother multiple times, and how her mother stayed with him.  Yet, when she is living with someone, she does just that.  She saw her mother’s mistakes, but perpetuated the pattern.  I do not think it was a conscious thing. Her Her head told her what he did was absolutely wrong, but in her heart, she had an emotional kinship with him and saw him as her protector.

EC:  The setting plays an important role?

KK: My inspiration always comes from the setting.  I will only choose a setting I know really well, which is why I chose this county, because that is where I grew up.  I know the mountains, lakes, woods, and river intimately.  When someone is put in nature they can experience the beauty, but there is also a sense of danger where things can go terribly wrong.

EC:  Is the Delaware River a metaphor?

KK:  I did research and read about a Japanese study that claimed “intelligence” of water.  Ice and water will move away from loud noises and sounds.   Parker feels that the river talked to him.  I also compared the relationship between Becca and her father with this book quote, just like the river, “sometimes tranquil and other times tumultuous.  She and her father were more like the white-water rapids, tumbling over rocks, navigating bends, riding the currents…” I try to have the setting describe the character’s emotions.

EC:  You were brave to kill “Bambi”? 

KK:  Yes, a deer was killed.  I am a realist and won’t shy away from killing an animal. If it enhances the story I will kill anything. I live in a big hunting community.  In fact, my children are off from school today because it is the opening of hunting season.  In Eastern Pennsylvania, it is a big deal.  My favorite books are the ones Becca read deal with nature, Old Yeller, and The Call of The Wild.  I love when a book makes you feel something.

EC:  But on the other side you write how Becca gets comfort from her dog Romy?

KK:  I always grew up with pets so animals are a part of my life.  Becca gets solace from Romy.  I think when someone has a bad day pets are there to cuddle and hug.  This is why I put the book quote, “Romy pushed her warm body against Becca’s leg.  She bent down, buried her face in Romy’s face, having turned to animals for comfort ever since that day John had given her that scruffy old barn cat.” Even though my dog is 75 pounds she is still a lap dog.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

KK:  The title is IN THE COLD WOODS and will be released in August. Becca will be a secondary character although I will explore the relationship between her and Parker as seen through his eyes.  They will have some problems, but are trying to work them out.  Parker will also be getting a female partner.  Each book in the series will concentrate on a different character so I guess in some ways they are like standalones with Parker in all of them.