By Tim Johnston
Algonquin Books, ISBN: 978-1616206772
Hardcover, 416 pages. © 2019
An unexpected winter road trip across several states toward a small town in Minnesota lands college students Audrey and Caroline in the icy waters of the Black Root River. Audrey survives. Caroline does not. Despite Audrey’s claims that their car was deliberately pushed into the river, no concrete evidence is found. But small-town people talk, and Audrey’s brush with death hits too close to home, shaking loose painful memories of another young woman’s body pulled from that same river, ten years earlier. No evidence was found then, either. Families and police alike have lived with that uncertainty for far too long.
Now Audrey begins to put the pieces together. She can’t—won’t—let go and move on. She knows who the locals suspected all those years ago, but Audrey’s not convinced. She believes the two events are connected, and she’s determined to figure it out, no matter what the consequences.
I happened on this advanced reading copy of The Current at a book swap, and wow am I ever grateful I picked it up. From the very first page, author Tim Johnston reeled me in until by page 22, there was no putting it down. Pacing is well done, bringing the reader to peaks of tension over and over, with “rests” in between just long enough to heap more layers onto this already intricate mystery before building again. Throughout, the narrative doles out shrewd clues and hints, not enough to give anything away but plenty to keep you guessing and turning the pages. Even though I began to suspect the actual antagonist long before the actual reveal, I wasn’t sure until near the end.
But The Current is far more than a who-done-it mystery. It’s a suspense-filled thriller, through and through. There are a couple of moments that had me sitting with my hand over my mouth, as if I were actually in the scene. The scariest part, for me, was that it felt so real. While this particular story is fiction, it could happen anywhere. Anytime. And sometimes it does. Look through the investigative records in any U.S. state, and you’re likely to find at least a few similar cases that slipped through the fingers of law enforcement.
The characters really came alive throughout the story, as did the scenes. Johnston’s evocative descriptions involve all the senses so that the reader is easily able to get inside the characters’ heads in an edge-of-your-seat, immersive reading experience. Coming from a small town myself, I feel like Johnston captures that quiet but distinctive expectation small-town people have of each other, how they both look out for and besmirch one another as a matter of course. Were it farther South and East (and quite a few years ago), I might have known these people, all of whom are relatable in one way or another. Audrey is the main protagonist, yet while I empathized with her plight, I felt more drawn to Marky’s non-neurotypical point of view. I looked forward to scenes where I could hear his thoughts and try to anticipate what he was doing and why.
One thing I particularly liked about Johnston’s style is the way he drops the reader into the sort of stream-of-consciousness type of thinking that most of us probably utilize, but is often hard to express in words. For me, it felt more organic than the clipped depiction of internal processing where one thought follows another in logical procession. Especially with Marky’s scenes, this helped me feel more attuned with the characters and what they were actually thinking/feeling. In addition to this, Johnston handles several sensitive, potentially triggering moments in the book with grace, compassion and understanding. Personally, I found inspiration and encouragement in Audrey’s determination. I expect others will as well.
The Current is a wild ride on a small-town scale that will make you hang on for all you’re worth. If you enjoy a good thriller, you won’t want to miss it. Due to be released January 22, 2019, you can pre-order now. Check out links on the author’s page here.