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Don't read this book if you're looking for a cheer-up. Hightower writes about yet another dysfunctional southern family. The heroine, Georgie, has escaped to her own antique shop; her sister is charmingly in her own world; her brother is gay. Georgie had a baby at the age of sixteen, a son who is now sixteen himself, and who has disappeared for the last two years. The family comes together after their mother dies under mysterious circumstances and Georgie suspects their father was responsible. Their father, while not typically abusive, could be cruel; his life has been directed by a stint in the Marine Corps, where he met men who would influence the rest of his life. Although the story is a suspenseful page-turner, we don't learn the story until the last few pages, when everything comes together. We get a sense of "Yes, now it all makes sense." Yet in the end three people are dead and two were innocent of anything except getting caught up too deeply in the family struggles. One was implicated, falsely, in a murder. Among novels of dysfunctional families and psychological suspense, High Water ranks as one of the best. Unfortunately, I had just picked up Sacrament of Lies by Elizabeth Dewberry, which has a similar theme -- heroine wondering if father killed mother -- but is not as plausible, deep or well-written. After reading the two in sequence, I began to wonder if this isn't some new sub-genre, just as child and wife abuse was a theme a few years ago. If you have to choose, read this one.
I'm a big fan of the Sonora Blair books, and I live in Cincinnati where they are set, so I was doubly concerned that Lynn Hightower's newest book was not a Sonora Blair book. Wow, were my socks knocked off by this book! A dysfunctional Southern family could be such a cliche or very trite, but Hightower pulls it off without going either way. Her characters have depth and humanity -- and you find yourself really rooting for them. Even when that means for them to do something really messed up <grin>. High Water takes Hightower from a formidable mystery author to a serious character-driven author with a mystery involved (think James Lee Burke). If you're hesitant because you love the Blair books, go ahead and read High Water. If you haven't read any of Hightower's previous books, this one will hook you on her writing, and you can go back and read the Sonora Blair books.
5.0 out of 5 starsfast-paced amateur sleuth mystery
Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2002
After leaving the marines due to an exercise scandal leaving seven soldiers dead, former drill Sergeant Fielding Smallwood accompanied by his family relocates in Beaufort, South Carolina. Fielding almost immediately starts an affair with a local widow even as his wife Lena is dying. His adult children detest Fielding, who has treated his family like he did his units, but feels they are his failures. His son Hank returns home after doing the worst deed by going AWOL two years ago. His youngest daughter Claire is a loser divorcee with three children. His other son Ashby is an unacceptable gay. Finally, Fielding blames all his trouble on his fourth child Georgie.
They become even angrier with him when, without consulting his four adult children, Fielding has his spouse taken off life-support. As the children commiserate with one another, they all wish Fielding was dead. They got what they asked for as someone murders the former marine. Law enforcement believes that one or more of his chidlren committed the crime with Claire being the one arrested. This leaves it up to Georgie to uncover the truth because she cannot accept that brittle Claire had the iron to kill anyone.
HIGH WATER is more than just a fast-paced amateur sleuth mystery. The story line focuses on a dysfunctional southern family struggling with self-images and interrelationships, of which none of the siblings seem capable of maintaining. The story line is fast-paced as expected from a Lynn Hightower tale, but the plot clearly belongs to the Smallwood family, as the author strips their souls bare for the audience to understand them inside a strong mystery.