Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Catherine Danielle Clark, known as Kya to her family, and as “The Marsh Girl” to the people of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, is abandoned by her family as a very young girl. She is able to survive with very little assistance from the adult world because of her remarkable resourcefulness. She ”finances” her relatively primitive life style primarily by collecting and selling mussels and smoked fish to the local version of a convenience store. Yet, she remains extremely shy, avoiding contact with other humans as much as possible, not even attending school despite the (half-hearted) efforts of local truant officer.
Just before reaching puberty, she meets Tate, a young man who has seen her fishing and collecting mussels. Tate teaches Kya how to read, and she turns into a voracious seeker of knowledge. Kya’s and Tate’s relationship turns romantic, though not sexual, but Tate abandons her to attend the University of North Carolina.
The early chapters of the book alternate between Kya’s youth in the 1950s and early 60s and the investigation of the mysterious death of Chase Andrews, a local former high school football star, in 1970. We later learn that Kya met Chase and became his lover on the rebound after Tate abandoned her.
The local sheriff develops a rather far-fetched theory of how Kya might have killed Chase, and the final chapters deal with the presumption of guilt about Kya. This presumption is buttressed by the town’s prejudice against the “Marsh Girl.” I can’t tell you how that ends, but the denouement is exciting and satisfying.
The book has received rave reviews, and I can see why. Delia Owens has created a collection of well-wrought characters. Kya in particular is very sympathetic, if a little implausible. The author is very effective in describing a believable fictional universe in coastal North Carolina in the area around Barkley Cove. The novel itself is an interesting melding of a coming of age novella with a murder mystery and a legal procedural tale. Highly recommended!
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018