Deep Creek (Hand)

Deep Creek
Dana Hand, 2010
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
308 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780547237480

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 30 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 metis 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 middle-aged judge who went after their slayers, and the sham race-murder trial that followed. This American tragedy was long suppressed and the victims nearly forgotten; Deep Creek teams history and imagination to illuminate how and why, in a seamless, fast-moving tale of courage and redemption, loss and love. A dazzling new novel for fans of Leif Enger, Lisa See, and Ivan Doig. (From the publisher.)

Author Bios
Dana Hand is the pen name of Will Howarth and Anne Matthews, who live and work in Princeton, NJ. Under their own names, they have published eighteen nonfiction books on American history, literature, and public issues. Deep Creek is their first novel.

Will Howarth is an authority on the history and literature of travel, places, and nature. He served as editor-in-chief of The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau, chaired The Center for American Places and, in over forty years at Princeton, explored nature-culture conflicts in courses ranging from pre-colonial America to postmodern fiction. As historian and critic, he specializes in trans-Atlantic romanticism, literary nonfiction, and the environmental humanities. As free-lance writer, he has covered assignments for many national periodicals. He first learned of the events at Deep Creek in 1981, while on assignment in Idaho for National Geographic.

Anne Matthews writes about American places facing sudden and often unwanted change. Where the Buffalo Roam, on the depopulating Great Plains, was a Pulitzer finalist in nonfiction. Bright College Years, a New York Times Notable Book, examines the American campus. Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City describes the wilding of urban spaces and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. She served on the Library of America editorial board for the two-volume collection, Reporting World War II. A contributing editor for American Scholar and Preservation, she has lectured and taught at Princeton, Columbia, and New York University. (From the authors' website.)

Book Reviews
Deep Creek is a gripping, spooky historical novel...highly ambitious and compelling, much more complex than it might appear from paraphrase. The dual authorship of this novel [Dana Hand is the pen name of Will Howarth and Anne Matthews] may have something to do with the fact that it's twice as good as it might have been otherwise
Carolyn See - Washington Post

The 1887 massacre of more than 30 Chinese gold miners in a remote area of the Idaho territory provides the real-life foundation for this engrossing look at racial prejudice and the settling of the West, the first novel from Hand (the pen name for William Howarth and Anne Matthews). After police judge Joe Vincent and his 10-year-old daughter, Nell, find a body while fishing, more brutally mutilated bodies turn up along the Snake River. The Sam Yup Company, a Chinese labor exchange, hires Vincent to find the culprits. Lee Loi, an ambitious investigator, and Grace Sundown, a Metis mountain guide who shares a past with Vincent, join the hunt. The three track a murderous crew through remote canyons and towns. The plot soon evolves into an insightful look at how Chinese immigrants and American Indians became the targets of rage and violence. The subsequent capture and trial of the killers illustrate that how the West was won was neither simple nor fair to minorities.
Publishers Weekly

Chinese gold miners are massacred in the Wild West, and the pursuit of their killers proves arduous. Writing under a joint pseudonym, nonfiction authors Will Howarth and Anne Matthews base their first novel on "actual events" (per their epigraph). The miners' bodies, horribly mutilated, are carried down the Snake River to Lewiston, Idaho Territory, in June 1887. Joe Vincent, the 56-year-old county judge, is asked to investigate, a tough assignment because feeling against Chinese immigrants is running strong. But Joe is a decent guy, and the case assumes new urgency when Lee Loi offers him $1,500 to pursue it. The young, Westernized Chinese man is an emissary of the Sam Yup, the powerful San Francisco company that had bankrolled the miners' expedition. Joe and Lee venture upriver with mysterious, exotic tracker Grace Sundown, the child of a French father and a Nimipu (Nez Perce) mother. They quickly identify the killers: seven white horse rustlers living in a cabin near the mining operation, led by a criminal psychopath named Blue Evans. The versatile Joe goes undercover to gather evidence and barely escapes with his life. This much is straightforward, but the story has more eddies and cross-currents than the Snake. What is the connection between the Sam Yup and John Vollmer, the county's biggest landowner? Between Vollmer and Evans? What intrigue is Joe's estranged wife Libby up to, and what has transpired between Joe and Grace? There are exciting moments for the odd trio of investigators as they elude Evans and the angry spirits of several dozen dead miners, but then the narrative sags disastrously with an account of the 1877 war against the Nez Perce, in which Joe participated. Two-thirds of the way through, we're still getting his back story. The authors' clipped prose works well for the action passages, much less so for the complex, see-sawing relationship between Joe and Grace. The makings of a fine novel, obscured by poor pacing and plotting.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
(Be sure to check out the authors' website for additional information—maps, historical profiles, and more.)

1. The story emerges from four actions: Lee asks Joe to lead an investigation; Henry asks Grace to come and help; after a ten-year absence, Grace agrees; and Joe consents to let Grace serve as river guide. What motives, evident and secret, impel these events?

2. Joe is a lawyer and investigator, able to examine bits of evidence and find cause-effect patterns. But certain liars can fool him entirely. Why?

3. Grace is quick, intuitive, learned, and bitter. What are the sources of her frustrations?

4. At first, Lee Loi is cheerful, self-centered, and cocky. What are the sources of his confidence? Why are his views so conventional?

5. A refrain in Joe's life is How much of that is true? The recurring answer: As much as you want it to be. Why are the crimes at Deep Creek so important to him?

6. On the return journey to Deep Creek, we learn that Grace has second sight and strange abilities. How does this side of her affect relations with others, especially Joe?

7. When and why does Lee begin to change? What role does he play after the river trips?

8. When do the three investigators truly become a team?

9. How do the Chinese miners behave, as individuals and as a group? Are they strange, alien, or clannish, as their detractors claimed? What aspects of their lives are most surprising?

10. Duty and honor take many forms. Is Joe a patriot? Is Jackson? Is Grace a good daughter? Is Nell? Why will Dow and Yap never break their promise to Elder Boss?

11. Why is Libby Leland so calculating and controlling? Why is she so successful?

12. Why is Blue Evans such a natural leader of men? What were his motives at Deep Creek?

13. How would Vollmer tell this story? How would Libby?

14. Why are so many of the characters wanderers, or exiles? What makes a family?

15. After the trial, each character experiences a process of compensation. Explain.
(Questions courtesy of authors' website.)

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