Beneath Still Watersby Cynthia A. Graham (Website, Facebook, Twitter)
Published by Blank Slate Press on March 31, 2015
Genres: Adult, Crime, Historical, Literary Fiction, Mystery
Source: TLC Book Tours
Amazon • Goodreads
I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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.
Beneath Still Waters was a book where I felt immediately right at home–with the ease of the simpler times of small town life in the mid-twentieth century, with the sights and sounds of a suffocatingly hot summer. I went into this book expecting a historical novel steeped in mystery, and I definitely got that…but I loved that it didn’t feel overly out of time. The slower pace of that by-gone era wasn’t jarring, and it gelled well with the contemplative yet very active characters.
When the headless body of newborn baby is discovered in the swamp at a popular fishing spot by two young boys, Sheriff Hick Blackburn is tasked with investigating how the baby wound up in the water–but only after prodding from the local doctor and an inquest. Once it’s clear that the baby was murdered, he must begin the difficult task of finding the mother, and then the father, and finally who ultimately killed the poor, helpless baby.
The investigation is far from smooth, and things are complicated by Hick’s past trauma as a soldier in World War II still haunting him. Ever since he returned from his tour of duty in Europe, he’s been a shell of his former self, and as the sheriff, some of the locals–especially the newspaper reporter across the street–seem to have no confidence in his police skills. He even broke things off with his fiancee, and even though he sees her daily at the diner and pines for her from afar, Hick won’t rekindle things with her even though it’s clear that she’s waited for him. Seeing the murdered baby reminds him of a traumatic event that happened in the war, and he’ll finally have to face that event head on if he wants to solve the mystery of who the baby belonged to and who killed her.
I give Beneath Still Waters a five out of five. The characters are well drawn and likable, and the atmosphere of the mid-twentieth century south was palpable. The prose flowed so nicely that it read so smoothly–it didn’t feel historical to me. I was very immersed in the story from the start, and I grew to care about the characters–even the minor ones–quite quickly. Not only does Beneath Still Waters focus on the mystery of a murdered baby and who her parents were, but it also looks at the stresses and struggles that veterans go through post-war when they return home. Secrets, lies, and deception abound in this book, but desperation truly can make people do unspeakable things, and this slice of Americana is depicted quite realistically. I thoroughly enjoyed Hick’s story, and I will definitely be checking out the next story featuring Hick as well that is available in March 2016.
About Cynthia A. Graham
Cynthia A. Graham was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1965. As a child she spent every weekend and vacation in the bootheel community where her parents married. There she fell in love with the particular flavor of the south — something reminscent of sweet tea and watermelon. Her memories of roosters crowing, chickens clucking, and yellowed, tobacco-stained fingers plucking guitars find their way into her stories and recall a time and place where life was hard and beautiful and real.
Cynthia graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Missouri – St. Louis with a B.A. in English. She has won several awards for her short stories and has been published in a number of anthologies.
Cynthia A. Graham’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS: