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Reading Between the Lines
At the center of Kate Wilhelm's beguiling new mystery, The Deepest Water, is a novel. Abby Connors's father, Jud, was a successful writer who preferred the remote tranquility of the wilderness to the hubbub of the city and the company of his dogs to the company of people. When he is murdered in his isolated lakeside cabin in Oregon, Abby is initially confused and paralyzed by grief. Who would want to kill her father and, still more perplexing, why? Frustrated by the police's thorough but slow efforts to track down the killer, Abby embarks on her own investigation, uncovering deeply buried secrets in the process and learning more about her father, herself, and the people around them than she ever knew before.
Searching for clues, she quickly realizes that the key to finding her father's killer lies in his latest novel, finished just weeks before his death. She knows that Jud's fiction often contains veiled references to real people and events in his own life, and his last work is no exception. As she reads the manuscript, she recognizes the people closest to him, and they all become suspects: his fiancée, his literary agent, his neighbors at the lake, Abby's husband, Abby's ex-husband. And Abby begins to realize that it is only a matter of time before she herself is in danger of becoming the killer's next victim.
But mysteriously, Jud has also been withdrawing a steady stream of cashier's checks for a number of years, puzzling Abby and the police. Why has he been secretly taking out this money? Where does he send it? Does he have another family somewhere that he has been secretly supporting? Is he paying off Abby's ex-husband? Will this trail of checks lead to the murderer? Again, Abby turns to the novel for guidance and stumbles upon a long-forgotten period of Jud's life that may offer clues to both the cashier's checks and his murder: his tour of duty in Vietnam.
As the mystery unfolds, The Deepest Water moves from the serene but haunting backwoods of Oregon to the sticky jungles of the Vietnam War to the city streets of San Francisco, eventually reaching its startling conclusion back in Jud's cabin by the water. Wilhelm skillfully unravels a page-turning plot with emotion and suspense. But as an author, her greatest strength lies in her careful examination of the characters' psychology. Through flashbacks, Wilhelm constructs a touching, realistic father-daughter relationship between Jud and Abby. Likewise, she successfully portrays Abby's anguish as she deals with her father's death and considers some of her most trusted companions as cold-blooded killers. Wilhelm also briefly but convincingly delves into Jud's post-Vietnam struggle to adjust to life back home. Ultimately, though, The Deepest Water is a worthwhile read for both its exciting plot and its thoughtful psychological twists that will keep the reader guessing until the end.