Book Review: The River and the Roses, by Sophia Martin

It’s true that a good way to make an afternoon disappear – or several afternoons if you’re a slow reader like me – is to download and open up Sophia Martin’s novel The River and the Roses. River features high school French teacher Veronica Barry, who, once she overcomes the denial of the psychic abilities she was born with, has a knack for having visions and conversing with the dead. Her involvement with a homicide investigation kicks off with a terrible dream from which she wakes up holding a freshly murdered woman in a park. Tendrils of subplots weave their way to a conclusion, and Bob’s your uncle, there’s your psychic/ghost murder mystery.

It’s also true that, should you choose to make your afternoon(s) disappear in this way, you will be exposed to an insightful message about self-discovery and sacrificial love. Veronica’s ways of willfully ignoring her second sight come to an end when the daughter of her friend-of-twelve-years, Melanie, does not come home from the Valentine’s Day dance. Veronica reluctantly gives in to Melanie’s forceful pleas to use her gift to locate the lost daughter, Angie. After Veronica’s visions lead to the recovery of Angie from the side of a riverbank in another county, Veronica makes the decision to stay tuned in to her clairvoyance, a choice not unaccompanied with struggle.

As external risks go, Veronica faces the potential scrutiny of looking like she’s crazy, and definite scrutiny of being suspected for a con. What living into her gift also means is inviting situations that can be uncomfortable: giving into seeing the visions of past, present, and future that come to her, opening herself up to seeing ghosts and letting them into her head.

Veronica says that finally accepting her gift and purposefully living into it makes her feel, “stronger, and – uncomplicated.” But, like I said, Veronica does continue to grapple with it, a lot. There is no one event where all the emotional lumps smooth out, leaving her with no qualms about her purpose. The dilemmas and uncertainty on her path to self-discovery are explored in introspective monologues, a characteristic of Martin’s writing that can also be found in her first novel, Broken Ones. These dilemmas about risks and negative connotations can be about as discomforting as the more sensory unpleasantries like being surrounded by ghosts at a funeral home. There are times when Veronica wonders if the second sight has any use at all but is “a nuisance, like an eye twitch or an allergy.” There are occasions when she wishes intensely that she could go back to rejecting prescient dreams. But despite all this, Veronica’s psychic purpose wins, as Martin eloquently articulates: “Spiders of shame still crawled in the back of her mind but they had lost their power.”

Traveling the road less comfortable is not primarily motivated by making spiders powerless. It is recollections of Angie’s rescue from the riverbank, and Melanie’s profound gratitude for her daughter’s saved life that fuel Veronica’s determination to go forward. It is for sacrificial love, not the pursuit of personal wholeness, that Veronica stops anesthetizing her second sight. This not only helps Melanie and Angie, but invites opportunities for Veronica to help ghosts and the living alike, running the gamut of aiding murder investigations to saving pet fish.

So there you are. If you want to curl up with a paranormal whodunnit that not only satisfies a craving for murder mystery brain candy, but also dips into the inner life of someone who loves her friends, The River and the Roses is just the ticket. Although, there is a subplot with a fraudulent ex-boyfriend that begs to be developed. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Martin will publish a separate novella on the thread, like she did with Veronica in Paris. Oh, and if you’re sensitive to ghost imagery, there was a brief, visual description that resulted in me sleeping with the light on. Just a warning.

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