The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Wilderness adventure…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Wini, our narrator, isn’t an adventurous type but she’s persuaded by her group of friends to go white-water rafting in the wilds of Maine. Pia has always been the leader, the one who holds the group together and who pushes them to step out of their normal routine once a year and take risks. This time she assures them their guide is experienced and knows the river well. It turns out Ryan is a twenty-year-old student with the looks of a Greek hero and enough confidence to persuade the more reluctant members of the group to trust him. Big mistake. Soon enough they run into trouble when their raft is lost and one of their party is killed. You’d think that would be the bad part of the trip, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong… you’re forgetting that fictional wildernesses are always home to the strangest people…

There are so many books and films about wilderness adventures going horribly wrong that it must be difficult to bring anything original to the table, and Ferencik doesn’t try. We have the usual group of people with pre-existing tensions that will come to the fore when danger threatens. There’s the traditional mix of peril from nature and man – there’s always some kind of weirdo around when an adventure holiday goes wrong, right? We have the ubiquitous current trend of women discovering how strong and resilient they truly are under adversity. And in line with modern adventures, there’s plenty of blood, vomiting and unplanned urination to ensure that reading during mealtimes is not advised.

There’s nothing wrong with writing to a formula, of course – thriller writers have been doing it for at least a century. Ferencik relies on the quality of her writing and characterisation to carry the thing off, and on the whole she succeeds pretty well. The four women are well drawn, each with a distinct personality, and the dynamics of their friendship rings true, with the little petty annoyances and resentments that build up in any small group over time but underpinned by genuine affection and a history of mutual support in bad times. Ryan, the guide, is also reasonably believable, though at every point I felt he came over as older than his supposed age of twenty – he felt too mature and adult to be that age (but that may be a sign of my own age!). The baddies, on the other hand, are ridiculously over-the-top, and their back-story left me totally unconvinced. Sadly I thought they were a real weakness in the plotting, neither credible nor realistic.

Erica Ferencik

Ferencik writes well, both in the slower passages when she is revealing her characters to the reader and in the fast-action sequences which grow and escalate as the book goes on. Too much swearing, of course, none of it necessary and adding nothing to either story or character.

So a mostly good example of a fairly formulaic thriller, let down a little by the unbelievability of the baddies. I enjoyed reading it, but hope she does something a little more original next time – I believe she has the talent, she just needs to find a better plot. Recommended, though, as an entertaining read overall.

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22 thoughts on “The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

  1. Hmmm…Well, I do like the Maine setting, and I can see how the premise could make for a great story, FictionFan. But I agree with you that over-the-top characters can take away from a story, and I’m not sure about that part. Not to mention….haven’t any of these young ladies ever read or seen a thriller before? Don’t they know what they’re risking? To me, it’s like being in a horror film and going down to the basement. 😉 Still, it does sounds as though the writing style works, and I’m glad you found things to enjoy about this one.

    • Haha, I know! They seem to be asking for trouble, and they never have the right survival equipment or training! 😉 This had all the elements but was a bit formulaic and the baddies were really overdone – however, her writing showed a lot of promise so she just needs to find a bit more originality in the plotting – I think she will, in time. 😀

    • Yes, I think a lot of these wilderness adventures are probably influenced by things like Deliverance but after a bit they all begin to feel the same. Haha – I must admit going off into a wilderness with a twenty-year-old guide wouldn’t be my ideal holiday! 😉

    • Yes, I liked the beginning best too when she was doing the characterisation and setting the adventure up, but after that it all became a bit too formulaic. Well written, though – I’d certainly read another of her books… 🙂

    • I haven’t read Deliverance, but I’ve read loads that I suspect were probably influenced by it, including this, and sadly they all begin to feel the same after a while. But she showed a lot of promise – I’ll be intrigued to see how she develops in the future! 😀

    • Hahaha! It’s becoming a pet peeve of mine that so many people seem to lose control of their bladder when scared in thrillers these days! It never happened to the Victorians… 😉

  2. Minus the unnecessary swearing and the over-the-top baddies, this sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for bringing it to me attention, FF. I’ve never read any of her work before.

    • I think this might have been her debut but I’m sure I saw that a new one came out recently so I must have a look and see what that’s about. She certainly shows a lot of promise, so if she can just get away from the formula I think she could be very good… 😀

  3. Sometimes it’s just nice to read something when you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get. While this doesn’t sound like the most adventurous take on the wilderness adventure story, and I could do without the gratuitous swearing, it is the sort of thing I might save for a time where I didn’t want to use too much brain power while reading.

    • Yes, it worked well for me on that level too. That’s usually what I read thrillers like Harlan Coben or John Grisham for – I rarely remember them and they all seem very similar but that makes them relaxing reading. Ferencik’s not quite up to their standard yet, but I thought she showed a lot of promise if she can just get a bit further away from the usual formula…

    • Haha, me too! I felt Wini should have followed her first instinct and just refused to go, though I admit that wouldn’t have made for a very exciting book… 😉

  4. I’m surprised you picked this one up FF, what drew you to it? I don’t mind a forumlaic thriller myself, Ruth Ware i think is a good example of this. Yes, it’s not wholly original, but still entertaining!

    • Ha! I won it in a giveaway years ago and it’s been lingering on my TBR ever since. I do like thrillers from time to time though I haven’t read so much of them since I got into vintage crime – no time!

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