Monday, February 1, 2010

DEEP CREEK by Dana Hand

This excellent novel is based on a true story, a tragedy which occurred on the Oregon side of Snake River south of Lewiston, Idaho, in 1887. Several of the characters were real people, but all of the characters are wonderfully drawn western types who are affected by the mass murder of Chinese gold miners at Deep Creek.

It begins when Judge Joe Vincent takes his daughter Nell fishing. Instead of catching fish on this day they are both enjoying so much, she catches a dead, mutilated body. More bodies turn up in the river until Vincent realizes he is faced with a mass murder of terrible proportions. The men worked for a San Francisco company which sends a representative out to hire an investigator. In due course Vincent, the company rep and a guide head down the Snake River to figure out what happened and why. This investigation will lead to disclosures of crimes and secrets far beyond their initial thought.

The story is also true in that it depicts how Chinese and Indian people were thought of as less than human. They had no rights and the best they could do was stay out of the way of whites, under the radar if possible. The guide, Grace Sundown, is half French, half Nez Perce. Although she had been taken in by the local doctor and his wife and is well educated, she is persona non grata in town. She is also an old, dear friend of Vincent. I learned quite a bit about Chinese and Indian culture; Dana Hand's research was detailed.

Once I got into this book far enough to feel like I knew the main characters, I couldn't put it down. The changes in them felt true due to their hardship and struggle. Some parts of the book are very frightening, others made me cringe, and it's difficult for the modern mind to comprehend the rampant prejudice of that time. There are many surprising twists in the story.

Dana Hand is the pen name of two people who have published nonfiction for years; in the interests of full disclosure, they are friends of mine. This review, though, isn't biased. As a former journalist, I have a lot of experience in setting aside personal bias when writing. It's just really a good book and I hope you'll read it to see for yourself.

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