Idaho Territory, June 1887. A small-town judge takes his young daughter fishing, and she catches a man. Another body surfaces, then another. The final toll: over thirty Chinese gold miners brutally murdered. Their San Francisco employer hires Idaho lawman Joe Vincent to solve the case.
Soon he journeys up the wild Snake River with Lee Loi, an ambitious young company investigator, and Grace Sundown, a métis mountain guide with too many secrets. As they track the killers across the Pacific Northwest, through haunted canyons and city streets, each must put aside lies and old grievances to survive a quest that will change them forever.
Deep Creek is a historical thriller inspired by actual events and people: the 1887 massacre of Chinese miners in remote and beautiful Hells Canyon, the brave judge who went after their slayers, and the sham race-murder trial that followed.
In this enhanced ebook edition, Deep Creek teams history with invention, setting authentic photographs and maps alongside the authors’ brilliant fiction to illuminate this long-forgotten American tragedy, in a tale of courage and redemption, loss and love.
The Washington Post has named Deep Creek a Best Novel of 2010, and The Daily Beast/Newsweek ranked it among the dozen best Western novels since 1960.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
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JUNE 3, 1887
Maybe I'll catch a sturgeon,” Nell Vincent told her father. “Maybe two.”
Nell held up a twist of frayed red yarn.
“Good choice,” said Joe. After five days of rain, the Snake River was running fast and high. The white sturgeon that trolled its depths grew eighteen feet long and could weigh a ton.
Well, nothing beat experience. Nell was small for twelve but hardy, with straight brown braids that fell nearly to her sash and freckles no buttermilk wash could dim.
“Or maybe I'll start with some trout, and work up.”
They smiled at each other. Half-dried mud covered the Vincents' best picnic spot, and over on the Washington shore, piles of brush and fencing clogged sandbar and cove. But Nell loved to fish, and Joe figured his youngest deserved a treat, even a medal. Her older brother Lon had spent the week of rainstorm sleeping, her sister Letty, sulking. Nell wanted to collect salt and turtle eggs and homestead in a cave, like the Swiss Family Robinson; she had it all planned.
Beside a young cottonwood, his daughter spread their smuggled feast: six ham biscuits and a jar of lukewarm lemonade. Joe did his best, then stretched out in the patchy shade to recover. A pity he had not brought along some bismuth powder.
Nell watched her father sleep. He was a neat, durable man with a shock of coarse gray-brown hair and a lined, clean-shaven face. At the moment he was snoring lightly. He would turn fifty-seven this year and needed his rest. Nell saw no reason to wake him and no reason to wait. She scrambled down the bank and threw out the silk line, swinging it toward open water. To the west, morning sun warmed the low dun hills to copper and gold.
Joe lay on the carriage rug, keeping an eye on her out of habit, but Nell was old enough to cast unsupervised. He went back to sleep, for real this time. Tethered beside the buggy, his bay saddle mare, Trim, nosed at a stand of red willow.
Ten minutes later, Nell felt the hook catch and tug. The rod bent low, then lower.
“Pa, bring the net! I got a big one!”
“Take your time,” Joe said, watching a jay stalk the last biscuit. Nell's estimates ran high. Then he heard her agonized whisper.
He sat up and stared at her catch: an arm rising in the water. He floundered into the shallows to seize the small, bloated body at shoulder and thigh. Long black hair, unbound, trailed over his hands like river weed. Poor lady, poor lady. He turned the corpse over, then saw a gunshot wound in the upper chest, the face chopped like cabbage, the genitals hacked away. Nell had thrown in a line and caught a man.
Joe's best fishing rod floated nearby, still hooked to one ear. Upstream he glimpsed another figure lodged in driftwood, pale among pale logs, and ten yards beyond, a third dark head. That victim might never come to shore. Joe saw the north-running current find and take it. Behind him, Nell moaned.
“Get back to the rig, Nellie. Now.”
Two hours later, Lewiston deputies had dragged ashore six flayed and battered corpses, all male, all Chinese. Joe looked away as Marshal Harry Akers bent over, hands braced on thighs, breathing hard. The deputies were country-bred, and Joe a Union veteran, but Akers was a town man.
“Judge, can you take this over? I got a lot to do. A lot.”
Joe nodded. He was police judge now, and the Chinese case would land with him anyway. He left a silent Nell at her grandparents' tall brick house on Main Street, then sent a deputy to find the local doctor who doubled as town coroner. Decades ago Henry Stanton, an ex-Royal Navy surgeon, came inland from Vancouver to practice in Idaho's gold country. His neat full beard was gray now, the genial face grim. Joe held open the leather satchel as his friend laid forceps and tenon saw beside the first victim.
“Throat cut,” said Henry. “Very slowly. It's butchery.”
“Massacre,” said Joe.
Three of the Chinese dead were naked and bound hand and foot, faces ripped by animal bites. Maybe canine, maybe feline; the wilder reaches of the Snake River above Lewiston still harbored puma and wolf. All the men pulled from the Snake were shot, though some backs and skulls also bore deep ax wounds. One victim was beheaded, the ghastly cranium wrapped in a ragged blue coat and tied to the waist. The rest were castrated. Two were gutted like deer. A skillful job, said Henry, when pressed.
“Poor devils, poor sad bastards,” Joe murmured as he walked the line of shrouded bodies. He knew a crew of Chinese gold miners had wintered up the Snake. He'd even talked to a couple, the morning they left. September of '86? October? His town logs would say. Twelve clothbound ledgers still sat on Joe's desk, one for each year spent as Lewiston's marshal. He should have given the whole set to Akers back in November, as a post-election courtesy, but Joe wasn't that sure his successor could read.
My fault, Joe thought. A river full of dead men. My mistake. He pulled the vinegar-soaked bandana back over nose and mouth, then turned a notebook page, slapping away flies. The battlefield stink was getting worse. Beside him the doctor probed and measured, his bare arms dark to the elbow with river mud and human rot.
Once they tried to sit beside the Snake and rest, but moments later Henry was wading out again. The deputies had missed one. Joe gave the doctor a hand back to shore, then hauled the dead man halfway up the slope. Maggots, pale and writhing, webbed the nostrils and open mouth.
“Corneas slit,” said Henry.
“Before death or after?” Joe asked.
“Before, I suspect.”
Together they heaved the sodden weight toward their riverbank morgue.
At sunset Joe crossed Tammany Creek and turned his mare toward the big shingled and turreted house on the hill. He sat on the stable mounting block to pull off his boots, which smelled of corpse. Likely they always would. He glanced up and saw lamplight in Nell's room. His father-in-law, Alonzo Leland, the town newspaper publisher, must have brought her home.
The front door was locked, so Joe went around to the kitchen. The Vincents had lived in this new house only since Christmas. A dozen packing crates still sat in the parlor, leaking straw, and once again the whole downstairs smelled of fresh paint. Lib and the man from Hale & Cooper were deadlocked over the merits of ivory versus cream.
Alonzo waylaid him in the hallway, hungry for a Teller exclusive.
“What's this about dead Chinks in the Snake?” Joe put one hand on the banister. “Can't tell you anything, Lon.”
“I've got a deadline, J. K.,” said Alonzo behind him.
Trousers soaked, back aching, Joe Vincent climbed on.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I don't think I've ever read a Western before. This was just great. I felt like I was there. Wish I was still; Deep Creek is one of those (rare) books that you don't want to end.
I read this because I don't usually read books in the Western genre and this looked like it would be doable - historical fiction based on an actual massacre of Chinese miners and one lawman's obsessive struggle to see their killers brought to justice. Great, right? Not so much.This was co-written by two authors who normally publish non-fiction history and it shows. The book jumps all over the place in tone and style making it very difficult to keep track of the relatively small number of characters. Ultimately the book is defeated by the inability of its writers to work together seamlessly. I think I also wanted the book to be more pulpy - the story has oodles of potential for playing with the conventions of the genre, but the authors didn't do that, either. Instead they settled for a really dry inexpertly written kind of Western kind of romance kind of historical fiction kind of novel. Bleh.
This is a great read--can't stop thinking about it. It's an imaginative recreation of an actual American crime, done very well. The characters are incredibly real and you really feel for them as they attempt justice for Chinese gold miners murdered in Hells Canyon, against a chilling array of villains, some respectable, some not. A little challenging to read, because the roots of the case turn out to be deeper in the past than it seems at first, but if you pay reasonable attention, all the pieces of the story come together in a satisfying, character-driven way. The writing is beautiful but not fancy, and the Western landscape comes wonderfully alive. Love the ending.
A lean, subtle, layered tale of the best and worst of the Old West, set at the cusp of the modern age (1887-92). Decent yet complicated protagonists, alarming villains, a really touching love story, and a murderous clash of four cultures (Chinese, Native American, Yankee, Southern.) Not at all the pleasantly diverting genre book I expected. This is literature.
Best novel of the West I've read since Angle of Repose, and a great job of making the past feel immediate. Because it is based on real events (the massacre of over 30 Chinese gold miners in 1887) the way the historical material is woven in is most intriguing. As far as I can tell, even the smallest details of place and time are on target, which is what makes the imagined parts so persuasive. The authors write very well, and never preach or push an agenda, just show you what it must have been like for all involved. Their various fates mattered a lot to me by the end of the book. The long love story of Joe and Grace is exceptional, and so is Lee's journey to manhood. Villains: lots of them, and damn scary. Also scary: the way many of the prejudices of 1887 are still out there, thriving.
I like historical fiction but rarely find really good examples. This is one. Just a great book: entertaining, exciting, learned a lot, well-constructed, characters you are sure go on to have other adventures somewhere, somehow, genuinely evil villains, and a story that says a lot (indirectly) about the dark and light sides of American life. Good author website, too. Made this a book club choice; had one of our best discussions ever.
I liked this better than Wolf Hall and Angle of Repose. An elegant, readable page-turner, based on an actual 1887 crime. My greatest compliment for a book is that I wish I had known the characters, and that is certainly true for this multicultural novel, set in the West and yet not at all a conventional Western, but a tale of lost love, justice, family, and one man against the town.
The tragic story of the Chinese goldminers provides great histroical data for this work of fiction. However, it was difficult to read. The point of view kept shifting from one character to the next without a comfortable segue. At Often I wasn't sure who's POV we were reading. However, by half way through, I had to know the outcomes. And the story brought to light our cultures continuing use of scapegoats.
A fast-moving story, based on the 1887 real-life massacre of over 30 Chinese gold miners on Idaho's Snake River. The appealing characters struggle with the big issues of their time (and ours): prejudice, injustice, duty vs. personal happiness, the corrupting power of big money & the many meanings of family. Yes, Deep Creek is an intelligent thriller. But it is also a historical novel that really convinces. I was sorry to leave its world. I still want to be heading upriver with Joe Vincent, Grace Sundown and Lee Loi, tracking down some of the worst villains ever, against tough odds, in gorgeous, scary country. A page-turner that stays with you, built around an American tragedy that deserves to be remembered.