BOOK CLUB: The River Mouth

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“The River Mouth” by Karen Herbert plays out as a crime novel, but is just as much a social commentary about sexism, racism, and secrets. It’s dark and absorbing, and I found myself ruminating on it for some time after I’d finished it.

The story is told in two timelines, both rushing towards the same point: the murder of 15 year old Darren Davies.

In the present, it’s a decade after Darren was murdered, and his killer has never been found. But now his mother’s best friend, Barbara, has been found dead herself on a lonely track in the Pilbara.

DNA taken from her as part of the investigation is matched to DNA found under Darren’s fingernails after his murder. This discovery re-opens the investigation, and a number of things not revealed at the time of Darren’s death are jolted loose.

the river mouth book

Ten years ago, it is a few weeks before Darren’s death. Something that happened back then caused his death. We follow him and his friends, trying to determine which things are significant, and which are just teens being teens. This timeline is narrated largely from the point of view of Colin, Barbara’s son and one of Darren’s closest friends.

The novel is told in a dry and slightly remote tone. This worked for me; rather than being immediately emotive, it gave a strong sense of emotions that run deep and long. Sandra is dealing with the grief of losing a son many years ago; it’s not the initial grief she has to deal with now, it’s the long haul. Her marriage broke down too, and that’s another kind of grief.

We know, of course, that the earlier timeline is leading inevitably to one horrific moment. And if you’re paying attention, you probably know who the killer is some time before Herbert explicitly reveals it. In some ways, though, the murder is not the point of the novel. Herbert also explores sexual assault and attitudes to it. She looks at the way small towns keep secrets and expose them, gossip and judge, ostracise people and yet are entwined with them. Much of it is quietly confronting.

This is the aspect of the novel I enjoyed most; the parts that quietly horrified me but also made me think.

Not all aspects of the crime angle really worked for me. For example, it’s not clear why the police place so much weight on the DNA under Darren’s fingernails; we learn early that there were witnesses to confirm Darren was shot from a distance and had no opportunity to fight his killer. It’s not clear why they take it as proof of who killed him.

Still, the converging timelines are both compelling, especially as the revelations begin to tumble out. While I found some elements of the investigation unconvincing, I was completely absorbed in Sandra’s feelings as new information comes to light. The two timelines also enable Herbert to show us things from both Sandra and Darren’s perspective; mother and son were seeing very different things. This is realistic and underlines more of Sandra’s sadness and regrets.

I really enjoyed this. It’s a novel that should make you stop and think. It’s a strong portrait of a woman dealing with lasting grief, and with how she herself has been changed. It gives a vivid impression of life in a smallish town. And the crime element, if not entirely successful, still kept me reading with interest.

Author: Karen Herbert
ISBN: 9 781760 990466
Copy courtesy of Fremantle Press (2021)

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The River Mouth by Karen Herbert. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

7 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The River Mouth

  1. The River Mouth by Karen Herbert was a thrilling read that had me guessing until the end.

    I originally wanted to read this book as I love the cover. Definitely happy that I judged this book by its cover.

    It has been 10 years since Sandra’s son Darren was murdered. Now her best friend is dead and her DNA matches the DNA found under Darren’s fingernails.

    Reading from the point of view of Darren’s mum Sandra (present), and his best friend Colin (past), we are able to get a well rounded view of the events leading up to Darrens death.

    I really enjoyed reading The River Mouth and will probably read it again and again.

    Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Fremantle Press for the opportunity to read and review The River Mouth.

  2. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and Fremantle Press for the opportunity to read The River Mouth.

    I found this story quite intriguing and while the timeline jumps were easy enough to follow, I found some of the characters confusing and wondered why they were included. They seemed to only be there to muddy the waters so the “twist” wouldn’t be guessed. Other than that, they didn’t bring much more to the storyline.

    But confusing characters aside, I enjoyed the writing style of this author and the basic premise of the story was good.

  3. ‘The River Mouth’ is an interesting & thought provoking mystery/crime story that kept me interested. It’s as much an examination of the small town personalities as it is a crime novel.

    When teenager Darren dies, his Mother Sandra is left devastated and wondering what really happened to her son.

    Fast forward a decade and Sandra learns of the death of her old friend Barbara, and finds out she could somehow be linked to the death of Darren all those years ago.

    The story jumps between the time surrounding 15 yr old Darren’s death and the present day and how Sandra is dealing with the aftermath of her son’s death and also the news of her friend’s death.

    This story has a somewhat sombre tone and the backdrop of the River community and the subject matter make for a deep and intriguing mystery.

    Definitely worth a look

  4. Full to the brim with secrets, lies and hidden truths, ‘The River Mouth’ delivers a slow reveal whodunit with trickle fed hints and clues along the way, with an ending I did not see coming.

    Sandra thinks she knows her best friend Barbara well, whose kids Darren and Colin are also best friends, but as the story unravels maybe Sandra didn’t know her quiet as well as she once thought she did.

    I liked the interwoven stories supplementing the main plot, the boy’s late -night nursing home car park prank, that escalated to a dizzying height beyond what they could ever have imagined, the harmless much-loved homeless Arthur and Darren’s generosity and never-ending supply of $50.00 notes.

    I loved the chapters sequence counting down backwards, and the order of events culminating in the day of Darren’s death on the riverbank in the fictional cray fishing town of Weymouth.

    With the Pilbara always staking a claim in a corner of my heart Barbara’s pilgrimage into the outback near the now deserted town of Wittenoom personally resonated with me.

    WOW for a debut novel ‘The River Mouth’ is a cracking read, Karen’s future is looking very bright, this is the joy of Beauty and Lace regularly introducing me to new and exciting authors. I am champing at the bit for Karen’s next installment, ‘The River Mouth’ hit a home run for me.

  5. Karen Herbert’s debut novel The River Mouth is an engaging and impressive read.

    Imagine still grieving the death of your 15-year-old son when you are told by Police that the 10-year cold case is being reopened. Why do you ask? Your best friend, Barbara’s body is discovered in the Pilbara on a remote road and her DNA matches the DNA found under your son Darren’s fingernails.

    So many questions to be answered and this sets the tone for the book. You want answers!
    The story is told in both Sandra’s current day perspective and Colin Russell’s perspective from 10 years ago. He was Darren’s best mate and also Barbara’s son. The chapters alternate on the different perspectives with Colin’s starting 25 days before Darren dies, and Sandra just being told about Barbara’s death. I found this countdown kept me reading as I wanted to know what happened to Darren and was Barbara involved. I was constantly on the lookout for clues for who may have killed Darren whilst I was reading his chapters..

    This story will appeal to lovers of the crime/mystery genre but I feel it also covered topics such as remote communities, family secrets, and grief. Karen Herbert also vividly described the landscape therefore it became an additional character during the storytelling.

    Thank you to Beauty and Lace, Fremantle Press, and Karen Herbert for the opportunity to read and review this fabulous debut novel.

  6. I loved Karen Herbert’s The River Mouth, a slow burn mystery that poignantly explores acute and long lasting grief with themes of family secrets, dementia, adoption and teenage life in a small town. The chapters swap between then and now, effectively following the events unfold and the revelations of 15 years later concurrently. The tone is somewhat brooding and dark, appropriate given the tragic twin events. The landscape is beautifully described and central to the story.

    A fabulous debut and new Australian voice, I’ll definitely be looking forward to more quality offerings from Karen Herbert. Thanks to Fremantle Press and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to discover The River Mouth.

  7. I didn’t enjoy this book…although I set out to like the character’s..having ersonally experienced small town & remote Indigenous communities from a nursing perspective..I was really hopeful that this book would intrigue me?!
    I liked the young people’s banter as dialogue is a difficult thing to write. As the book progressed timelines became chaotic & meaningless with more dubious characters appearing from the sidelines…I don’t think I’m demented but I really had to repeat the last 2 chapters to understand what had actually gone down. Very disappointing…BUT descriptive prose was good….& if same effort was put into character’s this would’ve been a winner!

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