The Current

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

Published by Algonquin Books on January 22, 2019

The lives of two young women, separated by more than a decade, intersect in The Current. One drowned in a river, but may have the victim of a crime before entering the water. Years later, the other woman nearly drowned in the same river. The second woman was a child when she saw the scene of the first woman’s death. Those fateful connections form the backbone of The Current, a literary crime novel that explores the impact of grief and resentment on characters who have little success coping with their losses.

Audrey Sutter (from Minnesota) and Caroline Price (from Georgia) are in their sophomore year at a Georgia college. Audrey needs to return home after learning her father, retired Sheriff Tom Sutter, is ill. Caroline impulsively decides to escape the magnified dramas of her life by driving Audrey home. Audrey is attacked in Iowa but Caroline rescues her from a probable sexual assault. Audrey and Caroline flee and are almost in Minnesota before ambiguous circumstances send the car into a river.

Gordon Burke’s daughter drowned in the same river years earlier. Burke has always carried a hatred for Sheriff Sutter for failing to arrest Danny Young, who was suspected of causing her death. That possibility ends Gordon’s relationship with Rachel Young (the widow of Gordon’s former business partner) and ends his friendship with Danny’s developmentally disabled brother Markey.

Much of the drama in the novel’s first half centers on Gordon, Tom, and Audrey. As the novel nears its midpoint, the focus shifts to Danny, who comes home to a town that does not welcome his return. Not even his old friend Jeff Goss, who appears to know more about the death of Gordon’s daughter than anyone except Danny, and who does not want Danny’s return to stir up the truth.

Palpable drama flows from a series of revelations as characters come to grip with new evidence of events that took place years earlier, as well as events surrounding the attack on Audrey. Characters are true to their midwestern small town roots, often struggling with emotions and frustrated by their sense of helplessness. Through dialog alone, without needless exposition, Tim Johnston conveys how difficult it is for Gordon to express himself.

As for the plot . . . I hate to use clichés like “riveting,” but I can’t think of a better word. The story is absolutely riveting, in part because the characters are so true-to-life and the description of their actions is so convincing. It’s a sad story but it’s sad because it rings true. It is a story of small town lives ruined by small men, men who “run all over the world like rats,” men who behave horridly and men who don’t speak up and put a stop to it.

Tension builds with such urgency in the second half that the book feels like a heavy weight pressing against the reader’s chest. The tension is created in part because of the story’s ambiguity. A man who might have attacked Audrey in Iowa faces extra-judicial punishment, but is he the guilty man? Another character is clearly guilty of certain crimes but is he responsible for Caroline’s death? Characters develop theories, they think they know what might have happened, but as is often true in life, nobody is really sure. They might convince themselves that they know, but in moments of honest reflection, they don’t know who is guilty and who is innocent. The story’s ambiguity reflects the real world, where so many crimes go unsolved and so many innocent people are falsely accused.

Ultimately, the story is about maintaining empathy in an uncertain world. Audrey feels the heart of Gordon’s daughter beating in her chest. Gordon once wished harm upon Audrey so her father would know the pain he felt, but when he gets to know Audrey, he understands how wrong he was to wish harm upon the innocent. The Current teaches the valuable lesson that justice and punishment are less important than understanding and healing.

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Two young women, friends from a small Midwestern college, are pulled from the frigid winter waters of a Minnesota river, one dead and the other barely alive.  The incident-which is no accident-recalls a similar tragedy 10 years earlier in the same Iowa town on the Minnesota border. The survivor, whose father is the former sheriff in the border Minnesota town,  soon realizes their stories have deeper connections than just the river. Small towns with secrets is a territory that many writers employ,  but Johnston takes his characters to a new level,  fully realized characters, each filled with currents of love, regrets, and grief. Tim Johnston is a master at peeling back his carefully plotted story, one piece at a time.  The Current is a sometimes bleak read, that will bring a feel of a Minnesota winter seem so real, you will want a fire, a quilt, and a cup of hot tea. 

The Current had some moments of overwriting, in my opinion, and could have done with some skillful editing. I found myself trying to get through some of the back and forth and felt that some writing could have been omitted. 

Overall, a four star book, and I will be reading more from Tim Johnston. 

Thanks to #NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of the ebook in exchange for an honest review.
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I very much enjoyed this mystery/ suspense novel about two college girls who met with misfortune on an icy road and landed in the current of a river. Although foul play is evident, there are no immediate suspects and very few clues. The author does a nice job of developing characters as he unravels the story using both the current case and similar historical case nearly 20 years ago. As Audrey recovers from the accident and begins to ask questions about what happened, the process of investigation helps her to understand the people from her childhood better - including her own father and some of the decisions he made.  A great page turner for summer reading - highly recommended.
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The Current by Tim Johnston - begins after two girls have been found in the river. One dead, the other severely hospitalized. Audrey, the surviving girl, starts asking questions as she desperately tries to figure out what happened to her and her friend Caroline that night. As the search for clues progresses, the small town is reminded of a similar incident occurring ten years prior. Another girl. Holly. Another body found dead in the river.

The timelines weave back and forth between the current investigation and the past incident. Secrets are uncovered and it appears that these two tragedies may be connected after all. Determined to uncover the truth, Audrey soon realizes she may be on the cusp of solving a decade old murder. Ending up in the river might not have been an accident at all...

I really enjoyed this one. The writing is just spectacularly haunting. Don’t let the cover fool you. This isn’t your fast-paced thriller. This is a literary novel that beautifully examines how tragedy has shaped the inhabitants of this town. The mystery unravels through exploration of each of the character's experiences in both past and present. This isn’t one to fly through. Sit down, take your time, and enjoy the journey that Johnston’s prose takes you on. // ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️

Thank you Algonquin Books and NetGalley for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
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I really enjoyed Tim Johnston’s first novel, Descent, so I couldn’t wait to dive into The Current. The book, a mystery wrapped in a study of the effects of grief on a small town, doesn’t start out with a bang, but more of a murmur. It sets up the tragedy nicely, perfectly framing a friendship and how easily and abruptly we can lose someone. College students Audrey Sutter and Caroline Price are not fond of each other when they’re paired as roommates, even going so far as to request different room assignments and avoiding each other as much as possible around campus. However, when they’re forced by circumstance to sit next to each other in a lit class, Caroline breaks their silence by turning to Audrey and asking for a pencil. From then on they’re inseparable. And so, when Audrey finds out her father Tom, the former sheriff of a tiny Minnesota town, is dying of cancer, she asks Caroline for a ride to the bus stop. The thought of Audrey riding a bus to go see her dying father is horrifying to Caroline, and besides, anything that tethers her to school, namely her boyfriend, is now an afterthought, so she offers to drive Audrey the 700 plus miles home.

An event at an icy rest stop sets the tone for what’s to come. When Audrey takes longer than she should in returning to the car, Caroline gets out into the frigid night to investigate.

And she looks again at the building, the large single window: the big gal sitting there as before, unquestionable owner of the sleeted-over wagon. All alone in there.


“Shit,” says Caroline, and she’s out of the car and moving fast through the sleet and she can hear them even before she rounds the corner,


“…there now, that’s better. See there, Bud? We’re all gonna be friends here.”


The one talking has got his hand on Audrey’s face, and Caroline registers in that first glance how dark the fingers look against her friend’s pale face, as if they’ve been dipped in paint, or oil—white hand but dark fingers—and how light her friend’s eyes are, even in that shadowed space. Audrey’s hair is a dark mess, tossed by some roughness, and the man has got a knee between her legs and has pinned one of her arms against the wall but her free hand hangs by her side, as if by some terrible gravity—has he broken her arm?

Caroline, tall and strong and powerful (not to mention a talented athlete) is not one to stand by and let anything happen to someone she loves. She maces one of the guys and all but dares the other to come after them so she can get a shot in at him. They make it back to their SUV, climb in, and are soon on a long icy slide down a hill, aimed straight for a bridge. They actually come to a stop without plummeting into the water, but headlights coming up behind them send them out onto the ice that covers the Black Root River, and it’s not strong enough to hold them.

Audrey survives with a broken arm, but Caroline doesn’t. Audrey sets out to find out who was in that car that pushed them into the river and left them for dead. Was it the two men that assaulted Audrey at the gas station? All Audrey remembers is seeing a truck that paused at the edge, then left, while she was hanging onto the RAV4 that was slowly sinking into the ice.

Johnston builds a complex web of menace and expertly weaves past and present together into a suspenseful, hypnotic, and compassionate story.

Meanwhile, her father can’t help but think about a case he never solved. Ten years ago, 19-year-old Holly Burke, who was found dead in that same river, and she was still alive before she went into the water. Her father, Gordon, still grieves for the daughter he lost, and can’t help but see parallels in Audrey and Caroline’s case. He also hasn’t let go of his anger over Tom’s failure to solve her case. There was a suspect named Danny Young, and a separate narrative covers the time directly after Holly’s death, and the aftermath of the suspicion cast on Danny. What does that have to do with the current case? Johnston builds a complex web of menace and expertly weaves past and present together into a suspenseful, hypnotic, and compassionate story. Johnston’s prose is lovely, and it carried me along much like a current might, but beware, there are plenty of rocks to watch out for.

If you enjoy books from Tana French and Kate Moretti, you’ll love Tim Johnston’s most recent book.
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3.5 stars.

This was a tough one to rate. 

On the positive side, Johnston has written an incredibly compelling story. Terrific premise, riveting complexity, and a fascinating cast of characters who motivate the reader to invest emotionally. 

But...BUT. There were some very problematic loose ends that needed to be tied up at the conclusion of this book which were left dangling. 

We had, essentially, two mysteries here. One was solved, and solved in a fascinating and satisfying manner. The other? We're left to wonder, which was frustrating and significantly lowered my overall opinion of the book. It renders a whole portion of the book seemingly futile, and that was disappointing. 

I also could have done without the whole suffering, dying dog narrative. It's depressing and not particularly critical to the plot and really doesn't need to be there.

On the whole, I enjoyed this very much as I was reading it, but the conclusion (or lack thereof) made the book feel incomplete.
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In Tim Johnston's The Current, this gripping novel will sweep you off your feet and have you carried away with the rip tide. It all started for Caroline Price and Audrey Sutter, two friends who ended up in a near-fatal car accident near the river in a small town in Minnesota. Two state troopers had found Audrey half-frozen and alive, while her friend Caroline drowned from the icy water. When word had came about, it reminded Gordon Burke of a similar crime that happened a decade ago to his own daughter. While the police had never found the culprits for that crime, it was up to Audrey to remember what happened to her and the attack on her and friend. As she recovered from her injuries, she talked to Gordon Burke and to the sheriffs on the past case. After her father passed away, she wanted to carry on with his wishes to solve the mystery and to pick up the pieces to that unsolved crime that had the same end result. Though both cases were similar in nature, she had uncovered a sniff of police corruption and a scandal that headed straight to Iowa. With a bit of coercion to arrest the right culprit, she had to fend for herself and make justice be served for Holly and Caroline.
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This book was just not for me. It took me a really long time to read because I kept getting bogged down with the wordiness and the rambling passages. I feel like it could have been edited a bit more to tighten up the plot and move it along faster. 

Many thanks to Netgalley, Algonquin Books and Tim Johnston for my complimentary e-copy ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Tim Johnston's second novel, The Current, cements his status as a unique, unequaled voice in contemporary fiction. Simply put, The Current, is a beautifully written, achingly heartbreaking story with authentic characters and a storyline that grabs readers by the heart and never lets go. The Current is an exploration of the enduring impact of a crime on innocent people set in the most American setting -- a small town in the Midwest. 

Two college students, Caroline Price and Audrey Sutter, set out on a trip to Minnesota. It is the dead of winter and Audrey needs to get home because her father is ill. She has no car or money, but Caroline has both, They don't reach their destination. Minnesota state troopers pull the car from the icy Black Root River. Caroline's body is found downriver, and Audrey is half frozen and traumatized, but alive. Their vehicle's descent into the river was no accident, and news travels quickly through the small town where Audrey's father is the former sheriff. Moreover, the incident is eerily reminiscent of an unsolved crime. Ten years ago, another young woman also lost her life in the river, and her killer has never been found and brought to justice.

Audrey is determined to find answers and soon discovers that she is connected to the prior case by more than the river. As her investigation leaders her toward dangerous truths, she is disillusioned to learn that violence simmers just below the surface of her hometown about which her father's suspicions may have been well-founded.

Johnston's economy of language and keen understanding of life in America's heartland effectively pull readers into the lives of his characters. Its a place where winters are long and treacherous, right is right, and there are no strangers. Against that backdrop, Johnston weaves an intricate tale about getting on with life in the face of unspeakable tragedy and the underlying rage it fuels, and the myriad ways in which small town life is not always as simple as it seems to be on the surface. The Current explores Audrey's coming of age and empowerment as she sees her hometown through adult eyes for the first time. And quietly examines the unconditional, unending love of a parent for his/her child through the perspectives of several of Johnston's characters. The story's pace is akin to the flow of the river -- constant and steady, surging at particular junctures. Ultimately, The Current is a haunting and memorable study of the ties that bind us to our loved ones and communities, and the power of events to shape our future. Johnston confirms that there is a current running through our lives that binds us together, even as it separates us in significant ways, and gives us strength when we need it most. The Current is sure to be deemed once of the best books of 2019 and become a contemporary classic.
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An atmospheric story alive with tension and emotion!

Tim Johnston has written a book that I not only Red but I felt. I felt the tension in my head, I felt the emotion in my heart, and I felt the cold in my bones. There was something so real and raw about this story. It is one of those books that will stick with you long after you turn the last page!

Audrey and Caroline are driving from their southern college to Audreys home in northern Minnesota.   Audrey is going home to see her father who is fighting cancer. As they approach audrey’s hometown they make a choice that will change everything... A bathroom break, an assault, an icy road, a narrow bridge, and the girls plummet into the icy river. Two girls go in, one comes out alive, and the other one is missing... but this was no accident.  This tragedy dredges up a similar tragedy that happened 10 years ago... a different girl, but the same River. Audrey’s father who was sheriff at  the time, headed up the investigation, but is there a connection to this current tragedy? Audrey is devastated, not only dealing with the loss of her friend, but her father’s disease. Consumed with guilt and grief Audrey investigates the past in order to come to terms with the present.  

This was a taut tense psychological crime thriller, that you will not be able to put down. I was riveted by every word in this book and drawn to every character. There is something so vulnerable about Audrey, yet she was so strong and smart, i really found myself rooting for her. The rest of the characters were equally compelling, there was something so true about each and every one of them. The mystery was brilliantly crafted full of twists and misdirection. I enjoyed every minute I spend with Audrey trying to figure out what happened 10 years ago, and if it was somehow related to her own tragedy.

An absorbing thriller full of guilt, grief, tension, miss direction, and emotion! Absolutely recommend!

🎧🎧🎧 this audiobook was narrated by Sarah Mollo-Christiensen and she did a stellar job! This is the first book I have listened to that she narrated and she really brought these characters to life.

 Song Running Through My Mind

Time, time time, see what's become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please
Don't look around
The leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter
Hear the Salvation Army band
Down by the riverside's, there's bound to be a better ride
Than what you've got planned
Carry your cup in your hand
And look around
Leaves are brown, now
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter
Hang on to your hopes, my friend
That's an easy thing to say
But if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend that you can build them again
Look around
The grass is high
The fields are ripe
It's the springtime of my life
Seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time?

*** many thanks to Algonquin Books for my copy ***
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The Current is billed as a thriller.  This does the book and its author a great disservice.  Literary fiction is a more apt description for this book.  Although the plot was dragged down somewhat by alternating between past and present, the character development and multiple layers to the story line make this for an interesting read. Add a strong sense of place and beautifully written descriptions of the small town where the book takes place and the Current is a solid addition to the mystery/fiction genre.
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An intriguing book, the story of two college girls ending up in a river. One lives, one dies. Similar to the same circumstances 10 years before when Holly Burke died in a river. While I enjoyed the story, I was surprised about the ending or lack there of!
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This book started off great, but the format was such that it didn't keep my interest as a reader and I quickly gave up. I personally have a hard time reading third person narration and when there is no distinct separation of dialog it made the paragraphs run together. I may go back and try this one again some time.
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This book was a lot better than I expected.  It started off a little strange but it definitely grows on you.  I love the way the author writes from a different person's perspective and keeps switching it up so you have to really pay attention. The story is about two girls who end up in a river. The same river a girl drowned in 10 years previously. The story revolves around all the people involved in the original drowning with the reader travelling back and forth in time.  A very interesting read, well written. I have to give it five stars which I rarely do.
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Two similar tragedies years apart bring pain and unresolved issues from the past to a small town. Johnston tries to capture the devastation of loss and its ripples throughout a community, and in its ensuing years. He pays great care to the psychological trauma which sudden and unexplained death can cause for many connected to the victim, but ultimately the novel doesn't have a satisfying ending despite its resolution. After meeting so many intro-scene-focused characters (every new person had a quirk and it became exhausting) it was difficult to track the supporting cast. A jumble amid heartfelt work illuminating the layers of grief and loneliness from the worst of human–and family–experiences.
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WHOA! Well well, this is my first novel from Johnston. So I’m going to start saying it was a bit confusing for me timeline wise (NOTE: this didn’t have any negative impact in my rating). The Current was packed with suspense, following the aftermath of an accident that left one girl dead and her friend in the hospital. Very intriguing. My big issue here and the reason why I’m not giving it 5 star is because of THE ENDING! I am so confused!!!!! I wanted/needed closure!
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This book was rough to get through, thanks to the writer's style. The non-use of quotations when characters talk...the shifting between characters' POVs within the same page...It got quite annoying. The pace was glacial, so if you're looking for a fast-moving thriller, this is not it. While others will like this for the slow moving, atmospheric read that it is...I think most will be bored.
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There's snow and ice and a car plunging into a dark river in The Current (Algonquin, review copy), Tim Johnston's riveting second novel after the very good The Descent. It's the dead of a Minnesota winter when state troopers recover an SUV and two young women from the Black Root River. Audrey Sutter is half-frozen but alive; her friend Caroline has drowned. With echoes of a similar incident in which a young woman drowned in the same river a decade ago, this new tragedy is no accident. Audrey discovers the townspeople she thought she knew -- the father of the first dead girl, a suspect who was a teenager at the time, her father the former sheriff -- are harboring secrets and regrets. The plot is layered, Johnston's writing evocative. The Current carries you along inexorably, the way good stories do.

from On a Clear Day I Can Read Forever
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Predator and prey

It's difficult to follow up a stellar book like DESCENT, which is this author's first book. DESCENT is a book I will keep for my permanent library and probably read again one future day. It's that good.

But Johnston followed through and here we have THE CURRENT. I won't be keeping it for my library and I won't read it again. But am I glad I read it this time? Absolutely! I wouldn't have wanted to miss it. is a dark book. It delves into the dichotomy of every person, between our public face and selves and the one we keep hidden, allowing out rarely, if at all.

The story is told from many perspectives, most based in a small town in Minnesota. And it is based on two similar events, ten years apart from each other. Both events are explored in depth and many viewpoints are shown to the reader of both.

The most recent event centers around two college girls driving to Minnesota because the father of one has terminal cancer. The ten-year old event happened in the small town in Minnesota to another girl and both events center around the same river in winter.

While I hardly looked up from the pages of DESCENT once I started reading it - the lyricism and power of the written word drew me in - this book I had to keep putting aside, I guess recovering a bit from the way it made me feel. And it does make you feel. That's not a bad thing for an author to do but it was uncomfortable for me. 

This is also an exceptional book - filled with light and dark and love and hate and sorrow and regret. And bitterness and lust and anger.
I highly recommend it but be forewarned - it leaves you a bit changed once you finish it.

I received this book from Algonquin Books through Net Galley in the hopes that I would read it and leave an unbiased review.
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It took me a while to pick up this book because I was unsure how I would feel about it. I ended up loving it so much more than I thought I would! The Current begins as two college girls, Caroline and Audrey, make their way to Audrey's father's house in Minnesota. They crash before they get there and the car is pulled from a river. Audrey is the only survivor. The accident brings up flashbacks of a similar ten years before, where another young woman lost her life. It begins to seem that a killer may live among them, and Audrey learns she is connected to this other young girl.

The Current does not move like your classic thriller or murder mystery. It is much more character driven and eerily atmospheric. Don't come into this book expecting something fast-paced. I love Johnston's fluid writing style, and I thought he developed his characters so well. Even the ones that only had a brief section in the book were still complete people. It made it so easy to get wrapped up in the story and immersed in the words.

There was a bit of switching between past and present that I found to be slightly confusing at times because I only knew it was the past through context. However, other than that I found this to be a beautiful work of fiction. I also listened to the audiobook and the narrator is fantastic. I was convinced there were really five narrators instead of just one. If you like audiobooks you should definitely check it out!
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