Ron Rash succeeds with who-done-it novel

ABOVE THE WATERFALL. By Ron Rash. Ecco. 252 pages. $26.99.

Ahhh, the detective novel, the guilty pleasure of the writer. Each of us has her or his favorites; Fleming, Moseley, MacDonald, Burke, Elmore, Child. The list just goes on. And sooner or later even the most renowned “lit” authors get tempted to give it a whirl, it seems.

The best of them come up with a curious hybrid, the sort of quality writing and characters that make legitimate a who-done-it that you can’t put down. Think Jim Harrison and his “faux mystery” Detective Sunderson.

Into this select niche slips the esteemed “new generation” Southern writer Ron Rash with “Above the Waterfall.”

“I had not spoken since the morning of the shooting,” Rash writes. “Then one day in July my grandparents’ neighbor nodded at the ridge gap and said watershed. I’d followed the creek upstream, thinking wood and tin over a spring, found instead a granite rock face shedding water. I’d touched the wet slow slide, touched the word itself, like the girl named Helen that Mrs. Abernathy told us about, whose first word gushed from a well pump. I’d closed my eyes and felt the stone tears. That evening, my grandfather had filled my glass with milk and handed it to me. Thank you, I said.”

The novel careens into the dirty secrets around the poisoning of a resort trout stream in a kith-and-kin mountain town in North Carolina. It’s told from the points of view of two lead characters tortured by their pasts: Becky, the nature-enraptured ranger in the park downstream, and Les, the compromised sheriff who investigates.

Rash is the acclaimed author of more than a dozen fiction novels and short-story compilations, as well as four poetry collections. A Boiling Springs, N.C., native, he is a professor at Western Carolina University.

“Above the Waterfall” is as rich and moving as his best. If you like detective novels, the plot twists are dizzying enough to keep you guessing.

Fan or not, you’re going to find this one hard to put down.

Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.