DOWN A DARK RIVER by Karen Odden - Interview
Join Inspector Michael Corravan in nineteenth-century London, as he unravels a troubling mystery before a killer can strike again. Don't miss Down a Dark River.
Down a Dark River
In the vein of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, Karen Odden’s mystery introduces Inspector Michael Corravan as he investigates a string of vicious murders that has rocked Victorian London’s upper crust.
London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.
An Irish former bare-knuckles boxer and dockworker from London’s seedy East End, Corravan has good street sense and an inspector’s knack for digging up clues. But he’s confounded when, a week later, a second woman is found dead in a rowboat, and then a third. The dead women seem to have no connection whatsoever. Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles makes an alarming discovery: the shipping magnate’s missing wife, Mrs. Beckford, may not have fled her house because she was insane, as her husband claims, and Mr. Beckford may not be the successful man of business that he appears to be.
Slowly, it becomes clear that the river murders and the case of Mrs. Beckford may be linked through some terrible act of injustice in the past—for which someone has vowed a brutal vengeance. Now, with the newspapers once again trumpeting the Yard’s failures, Corravan must dredge up the truth—before London devolves into a state of panic and before the killer claims another innocent victim.
“Sparkling prose, vivid description, a haunting and satisfyingly complex story . . . Down a Dark River is a must read for fans of any genre of crime fiction.” —Edwin Hill, author of The Secrets We Share
Q&A with Author
Does writing energize or exhaust you? How or why?
I had a friend ask me once, “Don’t you ever want to take a day off of writing, just for a break?” And I replied, “It’s sort of like brushing my teeth. I can skip a day, but it doesn’t feel good.” It’s the best answer I have. I’d say that writing is both the most energizing and one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done. Writing is my daily practice, and it grounds me.
On a typical day, I sit down at my desk by around 7:30 am to write or research, and five or six hours go by. Often, once I know my characters well, I put them in a room together and watch them moving and talking and gesturing, as if they’re in a movie, and I just write it all down. Sometimes I compose an entire chapter this way. I work for five or six hours, completely absorbed in that world … and suddenly I realize I’m really hungry. Then I look up at the clock, stretch my back, and realize I’m Done. Wiped. I cannot look at my screen one more minute.
That’s when I get up and walk around (usually to the kitchen first!) and seek out people … real people who act in ways that surprise me, instead of characters in the movie that is going on in my head. I hike in the desert, or I call a friend or my husband or one of my kids, or I spend time with my 17-year-old beagle. For another kind of break from reading and writing, I go for things with textures—like the yarn of my crochet project (though I’m the world’s slowest crocheter) or the floury stickiness of the white chocolate and craisin scones I like to make.
What makes DOWN A DARK RIVER special or unique to you?
The plot leapt at me from a contemporary story that I couldn’t put out of my head. Six or seven years ago, I read an article about race and the law in the US that included an account of a young Black woman in the South who was jaywalking across a quiet street. She was hit by a white man who was driving too fast and under the influence of alcohol, although under the legal limit. She suffered in the hospital for two months with terrible injuries, but a judge in court awarded her only $2,000—ostensibly because she had been jaywalking. The injustice clawed at me. But even more striking to me was that her angry father threatened not the judge but the judge’s daughter—to make the judge understand what it was to almost lose a daughter. Reading that, it struck me that revenge is significantly more complicated than the brief phrase “an eye for an eye” suggests. Sometimes when justice fails at the level of the symbol (which is what monetary compensation, or an apology, or a guilty verdict is because none of them materially reverse the damage of broken bones), what we call “revenge” is sometimes a (problematic) attempt to communicate one’s experience to someone who, out of a lack of compassion or ignorance or willfulness, is refusing to acknowledge it. I think of this type of “revenge” as akin to taking someone by the shoulders and shaking him to make him pay attention. So I wanted to explore revenge, but in 1870s London.
Who are your main characters? Tell as a little about what makes them tick.
I’m a little bit in love with my Scotland Yard Inspector, Michael Corravan, who in 1878 is 31 years old and Irish, at a time when anti-Irish feeling in England is high. A former thief, bare-knuckles boxer, and dock worker, Corravan grew up in Whitechapel, not far from where Jack the Ripper murders would happen a decade later. Growing up poor and relatively powerless made Corravan scrappy, decisive, physically strong, and good with his knife. These are all traits that stand him in good stead as a policeman. But as his wise friend (and love interest) Belinda Gale points out, those traits limit Corravan as well. At one point she tells him, “You love to rescue people, which is all well and good—but part of the reason you love the role of rescuer is it means you never have to admit your own weakness and vulnerability.” Corravan initially scoffs at her insight, but he comes to realize she’s right, and he will not be able to solve this serial murder case—involving a man whose very rage derives from his own social and legal powerlessness—until Corravan remembers how it was to feel powerless himself, as a child and a young man.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
I deeply believe in the power and importance of compassion and kindness. (The one trait I cannot abide is intentional, consistent unkindness.) I feel it’s important that we never reduce people to one aspect of their identity but instead view them in all their complexity. In my books, I strive to create characters with their own unique backstories and worldviews and motivations, and my main characters and even my secondary characters are often praised for being complex and well-developed. I also believe we should endeavor to resist thinking in those ugly binary terms of “us” versus “them.” Often this simply requires us finding common ground—which is one reason I chose a bridge for an important scene in Down a Dark River. In my daily life, I try to remember that most people are trying to do the best they can, just as I am. That’s one piece of common ground. Another is that we all make mistakes—sometimes significant ones that hurt the people we love. We’re evolving beings, so I don’t think it is fair to judge someone by their single worst action. Frankly, if I were judged solely by my worst actions, I’m not sure I’d have any friends.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Although previously I had published critical essays and articles in journals and introductions for Barnes & Noble classics, I think publishing my first book, A Lady in the Smoke, enabled me to start thinking of myself as a “Real Writer,” to give myself permission to prioritize writing over household chores, and to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do X today, I need to write.” The pro of writing (as a career) is that it’s like water; it can exist almost anywhere and can accommodate the shape of everything else. This is also the con. As a writer, I found it sometimes difficult to make and hold boundaries. I work from home, and while I have an office, it doesn’t have a door, just an archway. So my kids and husband would just wander in to visit or chat … and I’d feel guilty saying, I can’t talk right now; I’m writing. Now I have this huge white bear named Glacinda (my son named her) that I put by the archway when I can’t be disturbed.
Having that first publication also gave me the confidence to stretch myself in subsequent books and tackle themes outside of my comfort zone, to introduce myself to other writers, and to begin taking a small role in the professional community. It took me a long time to feel I was ready for a conference, but in October 2019, I attended my first Bouchercon, the international mystery writer’s conference, and to my delight, I found “my people.” The conference was not only a ton of fun; it opened my eyes to many ways to participate in and support others in the mystery community.
Books & Benches: Thank you so much, Karen, for a fabulous Q&A filled with a lot of interesting responses. Congrats on Down a Dark River!
“A spellbinding, brilliantly plotted Victorian murder mystery, Karen Odden’s Down a Dark River features a fascinating and relatable detective, a cast of complex characters, powerful prose, exceptional attention to historical detail, and enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat until the last astonishing page. Highly recommended!”—Syrie James, bestselling author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series, and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP). Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Karen lives in Arizona with her family and her rescue beagle Rosy.
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Crooked Lane Books
Hardcover & eBook; 336 pages
Series: An Inspector Corravan Mystery, Book One
Genre: Historical Mystery
Content Rating: PG-13, with non-descriptive sex and some violence.
Enter to win a copy of Down a Dark River by Karen Odden!
The giveaway is open to the U.S. only and ends December 1, 2021. You must be 18 or older to enter. Void where prohibited by law. This giveaway is sponsored by the author and hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.
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