A River Out of Eden


On a night of torrential rain, a warrior appears near the Colombia River, where the Chinook people thrived before the hydroelectric dams came and changed their entire way of life. He has come to reclaim the river, to return it to its original majesty.

Soon after, government employees are found murdered with elaborate harpoons. As the body count grows, Francine Smohalla, a government marine biologist of Chinook and white descent, embarks on her own investigation of the bizarre ...

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On a night of torrential rain, a warrior appears near the Colombia River, where the Chinook people thrived before the hydroelectric dams came and changed their entire way of life. He has come to reclaim the river, to return it to its original majesty.

Soon after, government employees are found murdered with elaborate harpoons. As the body count grows, Francine Smohalla, a government marine biologist of Chinook and white descent, embarks on her own investigation of the bizarre murders. As she desperately tries to find the killer and prevent any other murders, she finds herself spinning in the convergence of ethnic hatreds between Indians and whites, an unlikely relationship with a kindred spirit whose troubled life has led him to contemplate terrorism and apocalypse, an ancient prophecy about the return of her beloved salmon, and the giant dams on the Columbia that loom large and as seemingly immovable as the mountains themselves. A River Out of Eden is a gripping literary thriller straight from today’s headlines set against the uniquely American contradictions of the Pacific Northwest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Surges across the pages like a flood, cresting in a great boiling, churning climax. . . . A novel that demands admiration and respect.” --New York Daily News

“To say that this fine thriller ends with a bang is the understatement of the year.” —Bill McKibben, Author of The End of Nature

A River Out of Eden is more than a sizzling murder-mystery–it’s an elegy for the great dying rivers of the pacific Northwest and carries a timely and powerful message.” —Carl Hiassen

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like the Y2K apocalypse that never happened, this doomsday thriller goes bust. Hockenberry, Dateline NBC correspondent and author of Moving Violations (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award), tries to cram too many reportorial themes into his bulging narrative: the displacement of Pacific Northwest Chinook tribes, the questionable merits of salmon hatcheries and federal dams, the dangers of nuclear power and the threat posed by white supremacist fringe groups. There's a plot buried under the mountain of issues, but it's actually more of a highly convoluted premise. A Chinook warrior named Charley Shen-oh-way, long assumed dead, has begun slaughtering employees of a federal salmon hatchery to avenge the government's appropriation of sacred Indian ground. His half-Chinook daughter Francine, director of the hatchery, intuits Charley's involvement in the savage murders and withholds incriminating evidence, aided by her wildly improbable love interest, Duke McCurdy, a white supremacist radio provocateur with a secret heart of gold. Meanwhile, Jack Charnock, an unstable weapons researcher who's at last perfected a portable implosion device, has just been terminated from nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and isn't happy. These and other unsympathetic, one-dimensional characters link up implausibly to announce the novel's themes, even at the most intimate moments ("They have always betrayed me, my mother's eyes," she whispered. "Hate betrays me," Duke whispered back. "Who can escape his tribe?") Even Francine's semicomatose white mother stays on point, robotically intoning the Icelandic word for "big flood." Hockenberry, a one-time radio reporter in the Pacific Northwest, has enthusiastically researched the region, but this silly, pretentious novel doesn't show off either writer or culture to best advantage. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (May 17) Forecast: Hockenberry's first book, Moving Violations, was a national bestseller, but as a memoir, its sales bounced high off his fame as an NPR commentator and TV reporter who's also a paraplegic. Some attention will accrue to his first novel because of his continued media presence, and blurbs from Bill McKibben and William Dietrich will draw in browsers, but when all is said and done, he's not much of a thriller writer and, ultimately, sales will reflect this. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385721509
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/9/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

John Hockenberry, a former reporter for NPR, is a correspondent on Dateline NBC and the author of the national bestseller Moving Violations, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Read an Excerpt

They swam like creatures of a single mind, their eyes inclined upward together, finding a point in common somewhere above the surface of the river. In perfect synchrony, they turned in the morning light, their motion confident and curious in equal measure, yet as indecipherable as the secret language of a storm. Their skin stretched taut beneath a coating of glassy scales as thin as frost; it rippled with muscle, tiny and perfect, as its web of nerves channeled sign and signal from the water. As long as they had existed as a species, the salmon had read the water, matching hints of seasons and patterns they had no need to comprehend in order to reach their destination.

For tens of thousands of years, the salmon had decoded their river's songs and stirrings. They had inhaled its breath. Down the long canyon between its banks, time was told and foretold, and from great distances upstream it was possible for each fingertip-sized brain to hear the faraway voice of the ocean. In the same way, and two years hence as fully grown chinooks and sockeyes, they would sense the river's call from thousands of miles out to sea. The water gave them everything. In their lives they would take much and eventually give it all back. At this moment their offerings were speckles of color, jeweled signatures adorning each slender body like the daggers of a genie.

Yet this water told them nothing. In precise formation the baby salmon probed for direction, seeking the current only to end up in the place where they had begun. All around them nourishment was hanging in translucent spirals off a floating mass in the center of the water, casting a faint, inert shadow below. The bits of torn flesh were reassuring. Salmon were born in water filled with the floating, shredded remains of parents who spawned and died, exhausted and broken from the effort. The pungent gravy of putrefaction and rot was, for these infants, a life force that had ushered them into the world. But they understood that the body floating amongst them was not of their lineage. They fed anyway.

Through their skin they could hear the steady humming of machines pumping and circulating the water. This place matched nothing they were bred to understand. Only bits and pieces of their river could be deciphered from this water through the blood-gorged muslin of their gills and the nerves of their skin. The hatchlings swam forward, wary of predators, feeding gently off the body that bled slowly into the water around them. They puzzled together. Like tightly wound springs they were eager to take expected cues and hurl themselves back the way their long dead parents had come. But there were no cues, only the gnawing hunger as they circled; each time they encountered the walls of the tank they were surprised.

Located about an hour's drive east of Portland and an equal distance west of Francine Smohalla's home along the Columbia River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers salmon hatchery was her responsibility and her passion. It was nestled next to the Bonneville Dam complex, thirteen dams away from Mica Dam upstream in Canada and the last dam on the Columbia before the river made its final turn to the Pacific. Francine walked by the six tanks without a glance, and locating a panel on the wall, she tripped the automatic dimmers that manufactured daylight for two hundred thousand hatchlings. Out the open window she could see the river from where she stood.

Francine pretended that the baby salmon she took care of at the hatchery were family. She pretended when she packed her bag lunch every day that it was for someone besides her, that she would hand it to him on his way to some office and spend the day waiting for his return. Each afternoon when she ate lunch, she pretended that it had been packed not by her, but by someone that she would be going home to. It almost worked. Her emptiness remained at bay for as long as it took to pack and then eat each day. But since looking after someone and being looked after were conditions she had never known in her own life, she couldn't tell for sure how much she yearned for them, and the emptiness always returned.

Bonneville was the largest of five federal dams between here and the Snake River junction. Its hatchery was the largest of four on the river. It adjoined the Bonneville locks, and Francine could watch the ships and barges from all over the world as she worked. The vast concrete arch of the dam stretched like a bridge to the Oregon side of the river. The halogen lights of the powerhouse cast arcs of white over the precipice, reflecting off clouds of spray rising up from the turbine penstocks. The wind teased Bonneville's clouds into wisps and ringlets. The whole effect was of a boiling cauldron, another spectacle credited to the unseasonably heavy rain. Like every other dam on the Columbia, Bonneville was at high water, and she was the last gatekeeper draining the interior of a continent into the Pacific Ocean.

Bonneville allowed more than water through its various gates. Unlike the Grand Coulee Dam upstream, Bonneville had not completely sealed the river to migrating fish and commerce. It was a busy outpost and had actually been built with salmon in mind. Besides the hatchery there was a fish ladder, a series of concrete steps up which salmon could swim much more easily than they could jump the old falls that used to churn the river during ancient times. The craggy, treacherous falls that had bedeviled the white settlers for hundreds of years and were named for ancient characters in the creation myths of the river's Indians had also been the salmon's path into the interior. With the building of the dams, those falls had all been replaced, leveled into ladders, or more precisely riverine escalators more suited to the modern age.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    showcases the Pacific Northwest dispute between environment and heritage vs. development

    Perhaps her plight is that of most Americans as her heritage (as a half-Chinook Indian) battles with her professional life working as a Corps of Engineer marine biologist on the Columbia River. Francine Smohalla cares about both of her worlds even if the divergence leaves her with inner turmoil. She knows the dams built by the Corps have destroyed the life of her people and she realizes that her people want to destroy the dams. <P>However, Francine was not expecting a serial killer to emerge who goes one step further by eliminating those individuals working for the Corps and associated organizations. The evidence accompanying the first corpse discovered by Francine points towards a Chinook Indian as the culprit. As other events add to the heated dispute and the death count grows, Francine worries that her beloved Chinook father is the killer and she begins to investigate. <P>A RIVER OUT OF EDEN is an exciting amateur sleuth thriller that showcases the Pacific Northwest dispute between environment and heritage vs. development. The story line is fast-paced, enjoyable, and filled with critical details that brings the area and the dispute to life. Although John Hockeberry has too many sub-plots filled with the range of issues diverting the reader at times from his central theme, the author writes a strong tale. Sub-genre readers will find this novel provides insight into a very complex debate inside an entertaining mystery. <P>Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2001

    Publisher's Weekly review is WRONG!

    After reading and re-reading this book and being a lifetime resident in the Pacific Northwest, I find Hockenberry's brilliant research to be uncanny and chilling. For the Publisher's Weekly to run down this book. which obviously took a great deal of study and time, is deplorable, wspecially before the book is theoretically off the press. However, it available in some bookstores and will be available in a very short time. This book is well worth five stars!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2001

    An extraordinary telling of a complex story

    'A River Out of Eden' is so richly layered both in the characters and in the story. It reflects a massive amount of research. John Hockenberry refers to places and situations in the Pacific Northwest that I have been around for 25 years, yet he clearly knows them more intimately than I do. I 'stayed in the book' even after I had finished reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2001

    What a Storyteller!

    Anyone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest or who has visited its magnificent landscape will enjoy this detailed, well-researched novel. Hockenberry's tale of the ancient and modern history, cultural clashes, and immense natural forces of the Columbia River is very different from his memoir, but his readers will continue to appreciate an amazing gift for storytelling.

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