’River Road,’ a novel by Carol Goodman.
'River Road,' a novel by Carol Goodman. (The Associated Press)

Grief can not only emotionally paralyze a person, making that individual retreat from relationships, but it also can make that person vulnerable to manipulation by others, as Carol Goodman shows in her intense "River Road."

Creative writing professor Nan Lewis' depression over the death of her daughter seven years ago has never abated. She has found solace only in alcohol and her job teaching at Acheron College in upstate New York. But now she fears that her job — her one connection to people — is about to end when she learns at a Christmas party that she's been denied tenure.

Although she's not drunk when she leaves the party, she's distraught and distracted when she hits a deer on a lonely, snowy road near her house. The next day, Nan learns from the police that her favorite student, Leia Dawson, had been killed the night before on that same road, near where her 4-year-old daughter, Emmy, had been killed by a hit-and-run driver. Nan becomes the main suspect until it's proved that her car didn't strike Leia. As the investigation focuses on the college's students and other professors, Nan finds unsettling links between the deaths of her daughter and her student.


Goodman expertly melds the psychological thriller and academic mystery into a compelling story of revenge and grief. Characters are well sculpted as "River Road" explores the friendship and broken relationships that emerge between co-workers. The campus proves to be a hotbed of secrets as each person seems to be hiding something. Even Leia, viewed as the perfect student, has a covert life.

Believable twists drive "River Road" to a thrilling denouement.

Online: http://www.carolgoodman.com/