Jack Magnus: 01/28/2015
The North Country Confessional is a mystery written by Craig C. Charles. Darby Weeks is going home again, to the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, that's been owned and run by his family for generations. While blessed with wealth from the coal mining industry, the family seemed to be under a curse, stemming in part from their age-old feud with the Marsh family. Darby escaped the tense and demanding situation as a young man when he joined the Navy. Now, with the passing of his grandfather, Darby is the last of the Stickney line and heir to the hotel. The Medal of Honor winner had planned to spend just enough time there to settle the estate, but his departure gets delayed by a series of troubling events.
Craig C. Charles's mystery story, The North Country Confessional, takes the reader on a magical journey to the wild places and rugged mountains of New Hampshire while presenting at the same time a suspenseful mystery with both historical and supernatural aspects. Darby Weeks is complex and tortured, his discomfort at being the heir apparent and war-time hero writ large in everything he does. While Charles' mystery is first-rate and has a fantastic cast of characters, my favorite parts of the story revolved around Darby's climbs up Mount Washington and his hikes along that portion of the Appalachian Trail. What a treat to see the mountains and experience a bit of the trail through the author's eyes! The North Country Confessional is an engrossing mystery, with an intriguing main character and an unbelievably gorgeous natural setting. It's most highly recommended.
MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW - Diane Donovan:
THE NORTH COUNTRY CONFESSIONAL
A good novel read is like a recipe for success: ideally it will create tension through conflict, present strong characters to snag and retain human interest elements, and perhaps add a dose of love into the mix. Readers seeking all these basics will find The North Country Confessional holds the formula of a winning read.
Pickford Marsh is a poor excuse for a human. He likes dark places (including his hotel's dark speakeasy) and he has a sinister plan, too. But all this is about to be transformed by a higher power that constantly moves through his life … and it's not a benevolent force, either.
Fast forward from third person observational to first person experience, where protagonist Darby is being chauffeured into the North Country, a world he grew up in but left long ago: "My driver recounted the history of Franconia Notch as we traversed the mountain pass. A pre-dawn rain had scoured the shear walls, leaving them glistening and flowing with tears disguised as falling cataracts. They wept for me, matching the pain that gnawed inside of me. Unsure what the future held, I knew the answers would be waiting for me in the Great North Woods."
It's a world where nothing really changes - and a world about to be altered by the biggest change of all. The protagonist introduces readers to just a piece of the setting before he begins his confession; and between the casting of Pickford as a villain being persecuted by a darker force and this protagonist (who is being honest for perhaps the first time in his life), the trap is laid to neatly ensnare readers who expected a light, perhaps religious read from the book's title.
The North Country Confessional is anything but 'light': readers quickly discover that the protagonist's family was destroyed by not just one but a series of horrible accidents that left the community abuzz with speculation. Darby returns in good time to check on his inheritance and despite his distinguished Medal of Honor status, remains an outsider in his own hometown.
Family roots, teachings, and tradition permeate his life: they've given Darby the courage to survive under impossible conditions … but the most challenging of them all comes from an unexpected place: his return home: "The so-called “lucky ones” survive in spite of themselves. I was taught that luck is when preparedness encounters opportunity. This mantra for living was drilled into my psyche throughout my younger years in Bretton Woods. I never questioned it and I most certainly never challenged it until that brutally oppressive summer. The scorched and blackened days of August flowed seamlessly into the equally harsh ill winds of a muted autumn, testing my adult faith in this ancient family truism."
As heinous crimes peppered with riddles begin to plague the community, Darby's reappearance sparks an old rivalry between two families, releasing an evil to wreck vengeance upon everything around them. Darby's proposal of a truce between them not only fails to appease Pickford's thirst for retribution; it fuels it. And the town of Bretton Woods lies between the two when old passions ignite and set forth new determinations to win an old struggle: "I stood up and walked toward the door fuming, but determined to keep my head. I wouldn’t let Pickford incite me. There would be another time and place to avenge what was lost. He would not win."
The plot revolves around set-ups and murder against the backdrop of the North Country's harsh landscape: "Catching Finn by surprise, I pushed him off the sled and careened up the trestle in pursuit of my family’s nemesis. It was like navigating through a wet cotton ball. The whiteout conditions were extreme, made only worse by the ice. Feeling my sled slip beneath me, I realized that there would be no stopping now unless I wanted to slide backwards and plunge to my death."
Add a splash of romance (in the form of one Emily) to the cocktail of action and all the ingredients are present for a series of encounters holding many possible outcomes with no clear line of resolution: a winning feature in any novel and a standout in this one.