River delivers an entrancing travelogue along with the suspense story, showcasing moments like Kelly's reaction to a traditional Burmese meal as well as a haunting night in a tent surrounded by leopards and monkeys. The trip is punctuated with passionate romance—"he crushed me in a maddening embrace"—which alternates with Durango's penchant for brutal violence in protecting his friends. The narration frequently jumps to different points of view, which sometimes increases the tension but also at times proves jarring. And the plot, especially the various motivations, gets confusing, especially with its lengthy wind-up. But the characters, and their journey, are so engaging, that such concerns scarcely matter.
Indeed, it's really the characters that will keep the readers turning the pages. Kelly is an absolute delight, distinguished by a charming mix of fearlessness and naivete. More than a mere damsel in distress, she has a rich backstory that illuminates her character and makes her infatuation with Durango believable—even as it's clear he's not being entirely honest with her. Also nicely limned is Kelly's sibling-like relationship with Qing, at turns sweet and amusing, creating a wholly original love triangle. Readers will rapidly turn pages until the exciting and satisfying conclusion, hoping the resolute Kelly and her much-battered heart come through.
Takeaway: Fans of romance-flavored thrillers will love taking an international journey with such a winning heroine.
Great for fans of: Leslie Silbert’s The Intelligencer, Rosalie Knecht’s Who Is Vera Kelly?
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: A-