The Current (Johnston)

The Current 
Tim Johnston, 2019
Algonquin Books
416 pp.

Tim Johnston, whose breakout debut Descent was called “astonishing,” “dazzling,” and “unforgettable” by critics, returns with The Current, a tour de force about the indelible impact of a crime on the lives of innocent people.

In the dead of winter, outside a small Minnesota town, state troopers pull two young women and their car from the icy Black Root River. One is found downriver, drowned, while the other is found at the scene—half frozen but alive.

What happened was no accident, and news of the crime awakens the community’s memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may still live among them.

Determined to find answers, the surviving young woman soon realizes that she’s connected to the earlier unsolved case by more than just a river, and the deeper she plunges into her own investigation, the closer she comes to dangerous truths, and to the violence that simmers just below the surface of her hometown.

Grief, suspicion, the innocent and the guilty—all stir to life in this cold northern town where a young woman can come home, but still not be safe.

Brilliantly plotted and unrelentingly propulsive, The Current is a beautifully realized story about the fragility of life, the power of the past, and the need, always, to fight back. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1962-63
Where—Iowa City, Iowa, USA
Education—University of Iowa; University of Massachusetts
Awards—O'Henry Award
Currently—lives in Iowa City, Iowa

Tim Johnston is best known as the author of the mystery/thrillers, The Current (2019) and Descent (2015). He was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, earning degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He comes by his love of language naturally: his mother attended the famous Iowa Writers' Workshop for poetry and has written columns for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, Iowa City Press-Citizen, and New York Times.

Johnston has also published a collection of short stories, The Irish Girl (2009), some of whose stories won The O'Henry Prize and other awards, while the collection as a whole won the Katherine Anne Porter Award. He is also the author of the young-adult novel, Never So Green (2005).

Johnston's stories have appeared in New England Review, New Letters, Iowa Review, Missouri Review, Double Take, Best Life Magazine, and Narrative Magazine, among others.

Before returning to Iowa City, where he now lives, Johnston taught writing at the University of Memphis and George Washington University, where he was a writer-in-residence. (Adapted from various online sources. Retrieved 1/28/2019 .)

Book Reviews
Pick up Tim Johnston's suspenseful novel The Current and you risk finding yourself glued to your chair, eyes to the pages, no thought of attending to daily obligations. Johnston's elegant, cinematic style takes us into the characters' lives and history, problems and concerns. The book examines that horrifying moment when everything changes, the before and after when love, friendship, hopes and trust turn into dread, guilt, blame and grief.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Gripping as it is, Johnston’s masterful novel is worth lingering over—it soars above the constraints of a traditional thriller and pulls you deep into the secrets of a grief-stricken town.

Johnston dazzled with his breakout thriller, Descent; his follow-up is a more ambitious page-turner, unpacking how a shocking murder impacts the denizens of a small Minnesota town as they weather suspicion, guilt, and grief.
Entertainment Weekly
Tim Johnston’s gripping second novel is much more than a skillfully constructed, beautifully written whodunit. It’s a subtle and lyrical acclamation of the heart and spirit of small-town America. The Current is not your conventional, frenetically paced page-turner, although it smolders with a brooding, slow-burn tension that nudges the reader forward, catching you up in the lives of the troubled solitaries at the book’s core.
Washington Independent Review of Books

(Starred review) [O]utstanding…. Johnston imbues each character with believable motives. The nuanced plot delves deep into how a community—and surviving relatives—deal with the aftermath of a death.
Publishers Weekly

I would have taken a break long before 2:00 a.m. last night were it not for Johnston’s masterly ability to rummage inside the heads of his various characters.… We need a little hyperbole if we’re going to adequately describe how much we love a Tim Johnston novel. —Bill Ott

(Starred review) [H]aunting…. [T]his novel has at its heart a strong belief that love… is the one thing that truly saves us… [The title] functions as a beautiful metaphor for all the secrets and emotions roiling beneath the surface of every human life.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Generic Mystery Questions for THE CURRENT … then take off on your own:

Mystery / Crime / Suspense Thrillers

1. Talk about the characters, both good and bad. Describe their personalities and motivations. Are they fully developed and emotionally complex? Or are they flat, one-dimensional heroes and villains?

2. What do you know...and when do you know it? At what point in the book do you begin to piece together what happened?

3. Good crime writers embed hidden clues in plain sight, slipping them in casually, almost in passing. Did you pick them out, or were you...clueless? Once you've finished the book, go back to locate the clues hidden in plain sight. How skillful was the author in burying them?

4. Good crime writers also tease us with red-herrings—false clues—to purposely lead readers astray? Does your author try to throw you off track? If so, were you tripped up?

5. Talk about the twists & turns—those surprising plot developments that throw everything you think you've figured out into disarray.

  • Do they enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?
  • Are they plausible or implausible?
  • Do they feel forced and gratuitous—inserted merely to extend the story?

6. Does the author ratchet up the suspense? Did you find yourself anxious—quickly turning pages to learn what happened? A what point does the suspense start to build? Where does it climax...then perhaps start rising again?

7. A good ending is essential in any mystery or crime thriller: it should ease up on tension, answer questions, and tidy up loose ends.Does the ending accomplish those goals?

  •  Is the conclusion probable or believable?
  •  Is it organic, growing out of clues previously laid out by the author (see Question 3)?
  • Or does the ending come out of the blue, feeling forced or tacked-on?
  • Perhaps it's too predictable.
  • Can you envision a different or better ending?

8. Are there certain passages in the book—ideas, descriptions, or dialogue—that you found interesting or revealing...or that somehow struck you? What lines, if any, made you stop and think?

9. Overall, does the book satisfy? Does it live up to the standards of a good crime story or suspense thriller? Why or why not?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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