Murder mystery on the upper Hudson River

Review: ‘The Gorge’ by Ronald Berger

I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of murder mysteries that take place in the Adirondacks. Mostly it’s a matter that I love this region, and I relish the time I get to spend out of doors here. There’s no need to spoil that by making me worry about people out there trying to get me.

Ronald Berger, author of “The Gorge,” appears to like the North Country also. Though formally trained through the PhD level as a historian, he looks back to time spent as a rafting guide during the 1990s to set his background. His main character, a university-based criminologist named Richard Carlyle, shares that heritage of river runs.

The story doesn’t begin with a focus on murder; rather we start with what superficially looks like a tragic rafting accident. But when a second river guide dies soon afterwards, and people start remembering some unusual incidents the year before, Carlyle insists on taking a second look.

Seeing a cut foot strap on a raft involved in the first “accident” makes clear this was no unfortunate random occurrence.

I’m not a river runner myself. I have hiked into the Blue Ledges area several times, and as long as one keeps this novel out of mind, it’s an especially beautiful destination.

Even though I’ve never traveled through at river level, after reading this book I feel as though I know all the major rocks and tempestuous areas of the route.

Sometimes, the writer adds — and repeats — more detail than I needed. There’s no need to list the necessary equipment for a well-prepared guide multiple times. It’s perhaps more notable that for all the time we spend with Carlyle during the course of the book, I really didn’t feel I had more than a superficial grasp of his personality. Interestingly, it’s the villain of the story who’s given an extra bit of back story in order to better explain his motives.

But it’s not character the reader depends upon to drive a murder mystery; it’s plot. Here the narrative pace proves sufficiently bracing that the book indeed becomes a page-turner. Enough side routes are thrown into the mix to distract from easy solution as to the culprit.

I read “The Gorge” over a couple of evenings, though if I’d begun a couple of hours earlier, this might have been a book to finish in one sitting. Certainly I became immersed in the rafting culture as I progressed, though my friends who take on such pursuits tend to be more mild-mannered than the ones Berger describes. (At least I think they are.)

The book offers plenty of excitement and drama, and generous description of the Hudson River and adjacent terrain. If and when this first-time novelist pens more stories, I’ll be a willing reader, though I would prefer he keep his murderous characters out of my favorite mountains.


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