The Mill River Recluse (Mill River Series #1)

The Mill River Recluse (Mill River Series #1)

4.1 2249
by Darcie Chan

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The sensational New York Times bestseller The Mill River Recluse reminds us that friendship, family, and love can come from the most unexpected places. Perfect for fans of Maeve Binchy.

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

From the outside, Mill River looks like any

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The sensational New York Times bestseller The Mill River Recluse reminds us that friendship, family, and love can come from the most unexpected places. Perfect for fans of Maeve Binchy.

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

From the outside, Mill River looks like any sleepy little Vermont town where everyone knows everyone and people never need to lock their doors. There are newcomers for whom this appeals, from police officer Kyle Hansen and his daughter Rowen, who are starting over after heartache, to Claudia Simon, the schoolteacher who is determined to reinvent herself.
But on closer inspection, there are those in Mill River—including a stealthy arsonist, a covetous nurse, and a pilfering priest—who have things they wish to hide. None more than the widow Mary McAllister, who for the past sixty years has secluded herself in her marble mansion overlooking the town. Most of the residents have never even seen the peculiar woman. Only the priest, Father O’Brien, knows the deep secrets that keep Mary isolated—and that, once revealed, will forever change the community.
Praise for The Mill River Recluse
“A heartwarming story.”
“[Darcie] Chan’s sweet novel displays her talent. . . . A comforting book about the random acts of kindness that hold communities together.”Kirkus Reviews
“A real page-turner.”IndieReader
“Chan does an amazing job with pacing while maintaining continuity and weaving universal themes such as friendship, love, new beginnings and overcoming adversities into small town life.”RT Book Reviews
“This debut novel is a genre-breaking thriller with romantic overtones that should appeal to both men and women.”Huntington News
“Chan’s compassionate novel . . . blends elements of mystery, suspense and romance . . . [and] culminates in a beautifully rendered denouement that rekindles hope for a troubled world.”Shelf Awareness

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Editorial Reviews

Readers have called the author of this novel "America's Maeve Binchy" and this novel makes clear why. With The Mill River Recluse, Darcie Chan (The Mill River Redemption) invites us into an idyllic Vermont town to reveal the women and men behind its pristine white painted doors. Their stories reflect long-hidden secrets and the hard-won victories of recovery. A word-of-mouth hit in hardcover; now in trade paperback.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Mill River Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

As she gazed out the bay window in her bedroom, Mary McAllister knew this night would be her last.

Outside, the February darkness was suffused with light from the town. Thick snowflakes floated past the window. Only the Mill River itself, for which the small Vermont village was named, escaped the snow covering. Its center flowed, black and snakelike, along the edge of the sleeping town.

With her left hand, Mary stroked a large Siamese cat curled next to her on the adjustable bed. With her right, she tucked a few strands of fine white hair behind her ear. Mary’s eyes, one clear and blue, the other gray and cloudy, were fixed on the storm outside.

She wondered what they would think of her when they discovered what she had done.

The bedroom was dark, but the few lights from the town shone upward, enough to support a faint reflection of her face on the window glass. Mary looked at the reflection through her good eye. Pale and thin, she was the face of death superimposed on the darkness.

She drifted in and out of sleep, awakened every few minutes by the excruciating pain in her abdomen. Finally, her hand shaking, she reached for the bottle of pills and the cup of water at her bedside.

Mary poured the pills into her hand and then swallowed them all, a few at a time, with the water. She would leave this world in peaceful solitude. She would do so before her pain was so great—before her mental faculties were so diminished—that she couldn’t leave on her own terms.

She thought of Michael. The priest had left, as he had promised, but she wondered if he was still awake in the parish house. He would find her tomorrow. She knew it would be difficult for him, but he was prepared for the inevitable. They both were.

Still, she feared what death might bring.

Would she see her husband again? In her dim bedroom, Mary’s gaze focused on the outline of a figurine that stood on her bureau. It was a horse, carved elegantly from black marble. She thought of Patrick, of the first time she had seen him when he had come to her father’s farm, of the horror that followed.

Mary shuddered and forced her mind to focus on memories of her father instead. She remembered him standing in the round ring, his hat pushed back off his forehead, teaching young horses to be gentle. His belly laugh still rang in her ears.

Even now, having been a widow for more than seventy years, she still feared Patrick, but she longed to see her father again, and Grandpop, too. Perhaps soon she would.

Mary touched Sham’s furry head beside her, and the cat mewed and curled his paws in his sleep. Michael had promised to find a good home for him. She had no doubt that he would, and that fact comforted her. Tears ran down her cheeks as she whispered a loving goodbye to her faithful feline companion. Silently, she wished him the happiest of lives, however many he had left, and waited for the final, heavy sleepiness to surround her.

In Mill River, a handful of others were also awake. Officers Kyle Hansen and Leroy Underwood had been on patrol for more than an hour. The police department’s old Jeep Cherokee churned through the new snow as they made their way along the country roads surrounding the town. They had been looking for stranded motorists, but the roads were deserted. Most folks had been sensible enough to stay at home during the storm. Even with the snowfall, the evening, like most evenings in Mill River, had been uneventful.

Leroy was bored. He fidgeted in the passenger seat, squinting out the window. His hair was sandy brown and straight—and a little too long for a man in uniform, in Kyle’s opinion. His default expression was one of openmouthed confusion, and his shoulders were rounded forward. Hell, anyone unfortunate enough to see Leroy peering out the Jeep’s window might easily mistake him for an orangutan, Kyle thought.

Leroy turned from the window and held up an almost empty box of chocolate doughnuts.

“You care if I eat the last one?”

“Nah,” Kyle replied. “They’re stale, you know.”

This fact was lost on Leroy. “You think we should drive through town again?” he asked, with his mouth full.

Kyle glanced at Leroy and shrugged.

Leroy crammed the last of the doughnut into his mouth and struggled to open the thermos. As they started down the hill back into town, Leroy tried to pour the remaining coffee into the thermos cup, but most of it sloshed into his lap.

“Aw, shit. Take it easy with the potholes, would you?” he complained.

Kyle rolled his eyes. What Leroy lacked in intelligence and compassion, he made up for in appetite.

Their route took them over the covered bridge spanning the river and onto Main Street. Through the snow, Kyle could just make out the faint white glow of the McAllister mansion high on a hill past the other end of town.

“You ever seen her?” Leroy asked, following Kyle’s gaze.


“The Widow McAllister,” Leroy half whispered, as if he were speaking of a ghost.

“No,” Kyle said.

“I have,” Leroy said. “Once. Back when I was in high school, outside the bakery. She was all wrinkled and hunched over, with a patch over one eye, like a pirate.”

Kyle stared straight ahead, trying to focus on driving through the storm.

“I heard that some folks in town’s convinced she’s a witch or something,” Leroy said. “Creeps me out, thinking of her up there watching everybody.” Leroy flashed a taunting grin at Kyle. “Maybe someone should make her walk the plank.”

Kyle clenched his jaw. Leroy was trying to irritate him, he knew, and he wasn’t going to give him any satisfaction.

It was easier for Kyle to tolerate Leroy’s crudeness when he thought of how difficult it must have been for the junior officer growing up. According to the police chief, who knew almost everyone in town, Leroy was the son of an absentee father and an alcoholic mother. He had an older sister who lived in Rutland. That sister, apparently, was unique in the Underwood family, having finished college and taken a job as an accountant with the city government.

Then there was Leroy. Nearly a high school dropout, he had somehow received his diploma and bungled his way through training at the police academy. He had an ego the size of Texas, and Kyle had yet to see him show real kindness toward anyone. Why Leroy had been hired, Kyle didn’t know. Maybe the town had been desperate for another officer, but by Kyle’s standards, Leroy was hardly good officer material.

The old Jeep churned through the snow as they drove back into Mill River. Small, older houses and assorted trailer homes lined this end of Main Street. Most of the residences were dark. One mobile home, though, was brightly lit. In contrast to most of the other trailers, this one was shiny and new. The front yard was filled with ceramic ornaments protruding from the snow—a pair of deer, several rabbits, some gnomes, and a large birdbath.

“I guess Crazy Daisy’s still awake,” Leroy said. “Probably up fixing a new potion.”

At that moment, the front door of the trailer opened and a dumpling of a woman skipped out into the yard. Kyle slowed the Jeep. Daisy was spinning around, face upturned and tongue stuck out.

Leroy hooted with laughter. “Lookit that fat cow!” he shouted, oblivious to Kyle’s frown. “She keeps that up, and she’ll trip over one of them rabbits an’ bite off her tongue!”

“Shut up, Leroy,” Kyle said. He rolled down the driver’s side window.

“Ms. Delaine, you know it’s late, almost one in the morning, and you shouldn’t be outside in this storm,” he called to her.

Flushed and breathless, Daisy stopped her twirling and looked at them. A dark port-wine birthmark curled up from her jaw to her cheek, and her gray curls fell over her eyes. She teetered dizzily and brushed her hair from her face. “You should try the snow, Officer! I’ve been working on a spell for it all evening, and it’s delicious!” she shouted. “It’ll be perfect in my potions too, but I’m in an awful hurry. I’m cooking up a new one tonight!” Smiling, she scooped up a handful of snow, flung it into the air, waved at Officers Hansen and Underwood, and went inside.

Kyle sat shaking his head, but Leroy roared even louder.

“Aw, c’mon, Kyle. You know she’s nuts. What’s the harm in enjoying the entertainment?”

“She can’t help it, Leroy, and you don’t have the good sense to keep your mouth shut when you should,” Kyle snapped. He was watching the door of the trailer, making sure Daisy stayed inside.

“Ooh, touch-y,” Leroy replied. “Hell,” he said, chuckling again, “that show alone makes me sorta happy that she survived that fire. When I heard her trailer’d burned, I thought we’d finally be rid of the old bat.”

Kyle said nothing, despite his disgust, because it would have been useless. He had eight years on Leroy, but given Leroy’s level of maturity, it seemed more like eighty. During his time on the force in Boston, he’d seen more than a few young officers like Leroy. They were all arrogant and stupid and attracted to the position because they liked the power the uniform and the gun gave them. Most of those guys ended up dead or behind bars themselves, victims of their own bad intentions.

In Mill River, there were four police officers—himself, Leroy, Ron Wykowski, and Joe Fitzgerald, the chief. The problem was that in a town where nothing ever happened, three decent cops were more than enough. Leroy, lacking opportunities to jeopardize his career in a town that had trouble finding officers willing to work for what it could offer in salary, had great job security.

They continued down Main Street, through the quaint business district, past the white town hall building, and followed the bend in the road past St. John’s Catholic Church. One window was lit in the parish house.

“Preachie’s up,” Leroy chirped. This was nothing unusual, though, as Father O’Brien’s light was often on late into the night.

At the next house, there was another bright window.

“Teachie’s up, too,” Leroy said in a different tone. “Maybe we should stop by and read her a bedtime story.” He raised his eyebrows and slowly ran his tongue across his upper lip.

“Teachie” was Claudia Simon, the pretty new fourth-grade teacher at Mill River Elementary.

“You can read? That’s news to me,” Kyle said.

Leroy scowled but kept quiet until Kyle pulled up to the police station. As they got out, Leroy stared back down Main Street.

“Damn,” he said. “Snow like this makes even those shitty trailers look good.”

Again, Kyle didn’t respond. All he wanted was a hot shower and a warm bed. It had been a long night.

Claudia Simon was reading bedtime stories of a sort. Each of her students had written a short composition titled, “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.” Of the twenty-three fourth-graders, ten wanted to be President of the United States. Six wanted to be movie stars or singers. Four wanted to be doctors or nurses. One a policeman. One a fireman. And one a counselor.

Rowen Hansen was the little girl who wanted to be a counselor. Her father, Kyle Hansen, was a police officer in town. Claudia had learned from the principal that he was a widower. His little girl had written that she wanted to be a counselor, as her mother had been, because she liked to “listen to people and help fix their problems.” That simple. From a fourth-grader. But, Claudia thought, Rowen is an exceptional kid.

Claudia stood up and stretched. It was after one. But this was Saturday night—no, now Sunday morning—and if she lost herself grading papers, she could sleep late. Dressed in a jogging suit and socks, she padded down the hall to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She examined her reflection in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Only a few months ago, her reflection wouldn’t have fit in the mirror.

Single, obese, and lonely, Claudia had resolved, on her thirtieth birthday, to get herself into shape. She had made that resolution many times before. She had been overweight all her life, or as much of it as she could remember. She had never had a boyfriend, a prom date, or even so much as a man with a romantic interest in her. After that long, most people would have resigned themselves to a lifetime of solitary cheesecake. Instead, Claudia threw out the cheesecake, chips, ice cream, and pizza. She purchased a treadmill and Reeboks. Then, over the next year and a half, Claudia literally ran her ass off.

Now, ninety-two pounds lighter, Claudia examined her reflection with approval and headed to bed. She had a new wardrobe in a size ten. She had a teaching job in a school in a new town where people didn’t know her former fat self. She was alive. A single ready to mingle. She would get over her social awkwardness. She wouldn’t get flustered when she saw an attractive man. She wouldn’t avert her eyes. She was no longer ashamed of herself.

That night, Claudia fell asleep smiling.

It was well after midnight, but Jean Wykowski couldn’t sleep. Her husband, Ron, lay snoring beside her. His shift at the police station would begin at seven, and he was oblivious to her tossing and turning. But Ron’s snoring rarely bothered her, and it was not the reason that she experienced insomnia. Finally, she slipped from under the covers and tiptoed out of the bedroom.

On her way to the kitchen, she paused at her sons’ room. Jimmy and Johnny, ages nine and eleven, took after their father where sleep was concerned. Both were out cold, their breathing slow and rhythmic. Jimmy looked just as she had left him at bedtime. He lay on his back with the covers pulled up to his chin. Johnny, though, was turned around with his feet on his pillow and his head very close to falling off one side. How he had managed that Jean didn’t know, but she was able to coax him back under the covers in the proper direction without fully waking him.

Jean continued to the darkened kitchen, wincing every time the floor creaked. She poured a cup of milk and put it in the microwave. While the microwave hummed, she smiled to herself as she remembered how the boys had done the dishes that night, Johnny washing and Jimmy rinsing, each using the pull-out spray nozzle as a microphone to impersonate his favorite singer.

The microwave, too, was special, having been Ron’s Christmas present to her. It wasn’t the most romantic gift, of course, but it was functional and something the whole family could enjoy. She stopped the microwave, before its final loud beep, and removed her cup of milk.

She was lucky to have such great kids. They were stout little buggers and full of life, not like most of the unfortunate people she saw each day. Her husband of thirteen years was loving and loyal. He and the boys were the reasons she continued her emotionally draining work as a home health nurse for Rutland County.

Her patients were paraplegics, people recovering from surgery or major accidents, and the terminally ill. She watched them struggle and suffer, day after day. With her help, and that of doctors and therapists, some got better or at least learned to live with their impairments. But many didn’t, and it was the face of Mary McAllister, the patient to whom she was currently assigned, that kept sleep from her tonight.

She spent most of each shift with the old woman. Mrs. McAllister had only days left, maybe a week. Yesterday, Jean had hardly been able to look at her. The cancer had left Mrs. McAllister withered and jaundiced, and pain medication ensured that she slept most of the time. Jean had given her a sponge bath, changed her garments, and tried her best to make her comfortable. It wasn’t much, but it was all she could do. Today, Sunday, there would be no visit because she had the day off, but she knew the relief nurse who would cover her shift was gentle and caring. Attempting to console herself with those thoughts, Jean set her empty cup in the sink and walked back down the dark hallway to her bedroom.

In the parish house next to his church, Father Michael O’Brien was in his office, packing. Not books or files, only spoons. Father O’Brien was obsessed with spoons. He had accumulated close to seven hundred spoons during his lifetime. No two were alike. Tenderly, he lifted each one from a tattered cardboard box, examining it before placing it in a sturdy shipping box on his desk.

He collected the spoons in violation of his vow of poverty, and for this he felt guilty. When he thought about how he had obtained the spoons, he felt even worse. Still, there was something about a spoon—silver or stainless, elegant, frilly, or plain—that comforted him. He needed them. He had never been able to part with them.

Until now.

From his top desk drawer, he retrieved one final spoon. He placed it, a shiny silver teaspoon, in the shipping box. For a moment, he looked at it resting on top of its box-mates, and then retrieved it. He would not part with this one. On the back of the spoon an inscription read, “To my dear friend, love, MEHM.”

The one person who knew of his collection, who had been his closest friend for more than seventy years, had given this spoon to him. It would not be a sin to keep just this one.

He eased himself into the chair at his desk. It was late, and his arthritis was acting up. He set the spoon on the desk and put on his reading glasses. There was a small package wrapped in brown paper on his desk, accompanied by a sealed envelope. He didn’t know what was in the package. As for the envelope, he knew that there was a letter inside, written on fine linen stationery. He longed to read the letter, but it was not for him to read . . . yet. With a sigh, he picked up the envelope and pressed it to his chest.

He looked out the window toward Mary’s mansion on the hill. The darkness and the whirling snow prevented him from seeing the big marble home, but he knew it was there, overlooking Mill River as it had for decades. He closed his eyes. He knew the history of that house, the joy and the suffering, especially the suffering, that had taken place—and still took place—within it. He knew Mary was there, and wondered if she was sleeping, as he had left her, or awake looking down upon him. Maybe her soul had already departed.

“Dear girl, may you finally be at peace,” he whispered, and looked once more into the storm covering the mansion on the hill.

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Mill River Recluse 4.1 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 2249 reviews.
J_Greene More than 1 year ago
This story had me hooked from the moment I read the overview and kept me hooked through the last page. Chan's portrayal of the small town atmosphere and its citizens is dead-on...from the gossiping and nosy neighbors to the sense of community when something goes wrong. She draws you into Mill River from page one, and you will quickly "recognize" your own neighbors throughout the pages. The story is so good that my 15-year-old daughter started reading The Mill River Recluse the day I purchased it, and I didn't get the Nook back until she had finished. She couldn't put it down! I can't wait to see what Chan has in store for us next!
Balina More than 1 year ago
This was a fantastic read. Very hard to put down. Highly recommended
LavenderLace More than 1 year ago
The Mill River Recluse is a well-written and compelling love story about human compassion set in a charming New England village, in the 1940's. The storyline is a lot of flashback in nature but smartly begins at the end to bring questions to mind that are answered in an exciting and anxious way. I connected with the flawed and realistic and interesting characters, especially Mary McAllister. This feel-good storyline is built around Mary who has spent almost six decades secluded in a white mansion overlooking Mill River. She suffered dreadfully her entire life with an anxiety disorder that pretty much limited her socially to mail and an elderly priest, Father O'Brien. Few have seen the reclusive Mary as she upholds a reputation of being peculiar to the town. Only Father O'Brien knows the secret she keeps, that if revealed will change lives forever. This is a wonderful novel of tragedy and triumph, human values and all facets of love. Terrific for the human spirit!
Miller8 More than 1 year ago
I can't put it down! I am writing a reveiw to say buy it and be prepared to read. You just get attached to the characters and feel concern for them. You want to know happens next and then realize it is three hours later. Buy this book today. The characters have true depth and keep evolving. This is a wonderful escape into fascinating book.
sagahoney More than 1 year ago
I do not normally write a review on books that I have read. I read on average 15 books a week. This time however I must. As this book has made me laugh, cheer, feel their pain and sorrow and well let's just say the last 45 pages I cried like a baby, using 2 boxes of tissues. Big Kudos to Darcie Chan for writing an amazing story. I fell in love with all of these characters; they came alive and leapt of the page and became real. I would defiantly recommend this book to any avid reader. I paid $0.99 for this amazing book, I would have gladly paid a lot more for it. This book has become my favorite. I will reread it again and again if for nothing more than to make me feel better.
kat22an More than 1 year ago
This book was FABULOUS, it had me in tears!! I hope this author writes more, more, more! I cannot believe that this one was .99, it was the best book I have EVER read that was that cheap!! A must read.
HappyMegCO More than 1 year ago
I was immediately drawn into the town of Mill River, and captivated by the story of the widow McAllister. This is an excellent read... I couldn't put it down!
acpgrp More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because it was .99 and i figured i had nothing to lose. I was not expecting to enjoy the story and charachtets so much. The storyline is predictable, but one that kept my interest until the last sentence. If you are looking for an easy read with compelling characters, this will fit the bill.
ceeceelee More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully fleshed out characters in a small town you will come to love. A must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bought on a whim and couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How great it is to read a captivating story that is clean and well written. The characters came alive on the pages as I grew to admire, or dislike, each one. I have paid much more for books that turned out to be awful, so I am amazed that this delightful book was only .99. I hope Ms Chan writes many more.
Philip Rosel More than 1 year ago
very good, without all the sex.
Chalene Eaton More than 1 year ago
Great story of doing the best we can with what we're given. I hope this author will write more soon!
RedSheelah More than 1 year ago
This is a very good read for $.99, I could hardly put it down. It has love, mystery and sadness but the ending is really good. READ IT!
Bookworm_Annie More than 1 year ago
What an unexpected treasure and gift I was given in the reading of this! The characters were friends whose lives I was allowed to be a part of, to watch through the window of my imagination through a heartwarming tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not in unnecessary words. Some books I find have way too much description in unnecessary info. For example: it had none of the: Tablecloth was green with purple flowers and green wispy leaves, that gently swayed in the wind on a warm summer day while the blue sky started to cloud over with dark grey clouds...bla bla bla...In my opinion that kind of over description is just filler to make the book longer. This book is under 300 pages and very well written! Rich in story line and characters! I wish I had a better way to describe the style. Darcie is a writer to watch for!! Hope she writes more soon! Loved this style and hope to find more like it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first i thought i wouldnt like it but it started moving along and i ended up really enjoying the charachters! Makes u think of the kind of person u want to be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent read about how the experiences of a young girl made her become a social recluse. Even so, how her generosity affected the entire town. Several enjoyable sideline stories as well.
Pam Colden More than 1 year ago
Great read for a weekend. It was a nice story that made you feel as if you knew the people from the small town personally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great book! Could not put it down. It had me in tears at the end. Author did well in going back and forth from the past to the present.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is something I would easily recomend to someone. This is a very satisfying and wonderful book that may cause you to lose track of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the way this book was written. I cried at the end ; )
greyhound_lvr More than 1 year ago
I heard of this book in an article about how it was self-published. Read it out of curiosity and I can see why it was rejected by publishing houses. The characters never came to life for me, and I found the plot predictable and not too interesting. However, I've read books by established authors that weren't any better. I think Darcie Chan could be very successful in this genre, especially with help from a good editor.
James Watson More than 1 year ago
I had to force myself to close the book and turn off the light. It was that good! Enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will never look at a spoon the same way again. Love her writing.