The cover of The River Mouth by Karen Herbert

Title: The River Mouth
Author: Karen Herbert
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Fremantle Press

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault

Over the past few months, I’ve been on a crime/thriller binge, and The River Mouth by Karen Herbert hit my sweet spot: a mystery with a female protagonist set in Western Australia. It is a two-fold mystery that is well paced and gripping from start to finish. After Sandra’s best friend Barbara is found dead near a remote Pilbara Road, Sandra’s shocked to discover that her friend’s DNA is a match to that found on her son’s murdered body 10 years ago…did her best friend kill her son? I couldn’t put the book down as the investigation into her son’s (Darren) murder is reopened and the unsolved mysteries in Sandra’s small town are slowly unravelled. 

One of the primary reasons the double mystery worked so well was the continuous time jumps from the past (leading up to her son’s murder) and the present (after her best friend’s death). While the differing timelines and perspectives (one being Sandra’s in the present and the other perspective her son’s best friend and Barbara’s son, Colin in the past leading up to Darren’s death) was at first jarring, I quickly fell into the story. Alongside the mysterious circumstances of Darren and Barbara’s demise, the town’s crimes and gossip lead the story in an unexpected and often unreliable direction.

Herbert perfectly captured the small-town life with characters knowing each other from birth till death and noting any and all changes that occur in their small community; however, what stood out to me the most was how much Sandra knew about the individuals. Since Sandra works at the hospital caring for community members who wander in with small injuries and administering rape kits to teenage girls, she has an inside to the darker side of the community. This darkness in the community connects to another mystery that lingers over the town: the unknown rapist that broke into homes and sexually assaulted girls over several months leading up to Darren’s death. One theory is that Darren saw the rapist and was killed to hide the identity. Herbert does not divulge graphic details about the assault but focuses on the immediate aftermath in the hospital with Sandra. While this storyline is not as prominent as Darren or Barbara’s deaths, it was one that stood out to me. One of the reasons was because Sandra noted that most of the girls who she’s administered rape kits to over the years were assaulted by a family member. While this storyline does not divulge much detail and nor is it resolved, it emphasises the idea that Sandra does not know the members of her community as well as she thought.

Herbert’s novel had several captivating storylines that seamlessly weaved together as you read along, but what stood out to me the most was how disturbing the past is to both those who acted wrongly and those who are seemingly innocent. This is a novel that will keep you guessing and encourage you to check the locks on your door… As the weather turns and the sun dries up the Australian rivers once more, grab yourself a copy of The River Mouth and lounge in the heat while devouring this gripping novel.

Underground Team

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