River of Salt

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Member Reviews

So some GR friends were very excited about having access this as 'Read Now' on Netgalley and it was so contagious, I caught it. For some reason though, the words (in the description) 'reborn' and 'ghosts' made me expect something supernatural?! I don't really know what my frame of mind was like at that time but my head was definitely not screwed on properly because there's really nothing supernatural here...

Of course, incorrect expectations didn't help because whatever I expected never happened and that can let to a disappointment. I'm afraid that even after I read other reviews, I still couldn't get rid of my original thought. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of noir so River of Salt turned out to be just an okay read for me.

I enjoyed the first chapter a lot as it really gave form to the character of Blake Saunders. This is not a novel about the mafia though so he needed to be 'reborn' and what better place that some little coastal Aussie town. But even in an out-of-the-way sort of place, there is no avoiding bad things and as Blake tried to get it all sorted, things just kept escalating 'til he came across a 'ghost' from his past.

I love the setting (and said descriptions) and secondary characters (especially of the female variety). I'd love to live in a town like that - sounds divine - but I really would not like to live in the 60s as a woman. The mystery itself was astonishing, the climax heartpounding, and the ending, I think this could be a series ;)

Thanks to Fremantle Press via Netgalley for ecopy of book in exchange of honest review
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Haiku-review:

river of salt /
a strange fish out of water /
scrubs but never clean

This was a really great read. Terrific pacing, compelling characters and a strong setting.
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I loved the premise of "River of Salt" as it was so unusual. Well-written and with great pacing, this was a very solid book with plenty of atmosphere. I love novels that are set in Australia and also read quite a few historical mysteries, but I seemed to have difficulty connecting with the main character in this one. Sadly, "River of Salt" was not for me, although I can see that it may well appeal to other readers.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel, at my own request, from Fremantle Press via NetGalley. This review is my own unbiased opinion.
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Thank you to NetGalley & Freemantle Press for this book 'River of Salt' by Dave Warner. 

At the beginning I was a bit lost as to where this book was heading or what direction it intended to make. Blake, a guy from Philadelphia, flees the Philly mob to sunny Australia. 

Blake has tried to escape his past life and runs a bar called the Surf Shack and performs with his band at the bar, while surfing during the day. He works with Doreen, who privately holds a flame for Blake and is an interesting character herself. 

When a local working girl Valerie Stokes is killed brutally in the local motel, the blame is put on Blake's friend Crane who is a bit of a drifter. Blake is enraged at the assumption that his friend Crane could do such a crime. He takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of the investigation and find the real killer. I found these moments in the book the most interesting, reading Blake's movements and theories behind who could have most to lose/win by committing such a crime. 

Not really my usual kind of book that I would read as it based in 1961 and thereafter (nice way introducing the Beatles in Australia) but it was still an enjoyable read.
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The aspect of noir is making it feel connective. Usually the progression involves an anti-hero depending on the trajectory of his redemption. Trying to make this meld as an after thought; of a person searching for some sort of epilogue is usually where the story ends. That is why Blake Saunders in “River Of Salt” [David Warner/Freemantle/256pgs] is refreshing in a way. In escaping the wise guy elements of Philly and basically betraying his brother enough to get him killed, Saunders ends up on the coast of Australia running a bar and playing surf music. While this doesn’t sound like the best of set ups, there is always darkness in small communities and the true nature of human behavior reflects there as well. Between shakedowns on a regional level, hookers ending up dead in hotels, marital trysts that go wrong, young love that goes off the rails and other shenanigans, the situations in this novel come off more than a little bit in the vein of a soap opera but maybe one closer to “Riverdale” with its sparks. Doreen, as the foil to Blake, is both strong and vulnerable with a second life permeating that gives her even more texture than Blake. Even Nalder, the cop, always looking out for himself, is well built in terms of dimensions. Everyone has flaws. In this story everybody makes wrong decisions at a certain point but that makes the texture richer, even if it seems to connect and clean up a little too nicely. That said, both the internal and external struggles that permeate “River Of Salt” have their own strengths.

B

By Tim Wassberg
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Set in 1960s Queensland with the unlikely protagonist of an American ex-hitman in hiding from the mob, River of Salt is certainly something a little different. It's clever, quirky and wildly entertaining, with a cast of unique characters and a compelling story involving murder, theft, corruption, porn and a Watusi dance contest. Highly recommended.
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3.5★
“Blake moved purposefully just like the old guy who’d once done jobs for Capone had told him. ‘Never rush out. It invites the unwanted, accidents, problems. You get hit by a car, knock over a pram … people remember that. I knew a guy: he fired, turned and ran straight through a glass door. He bled out on the pavement before the guy he shot. Wear glasses. All they remember: the guy wore glasses.’”

Yep, Blake’s a hit-man in Philadelphia (“Philly”, in the US), and a good one. It’s a little like “Breaking Bad”, in that you know he’s a bad guy, but, you know . . . he’s OUR bad guy. And he was just a kid who idolised his big brother, Jimmy, when he started. Unfortunately, Jimmy wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (insert your preferred idiom here), but he did love his little brother.

The story opens in 1961 with some seriously bad guys enjoying a meal in their regular restaurant – a big guy and his bodyguards. We don’t know what’s about to happen, but when it does, it’s sudden and unexpected. Part of the unexpectedness is that Blake gets away clean. He IS good at what he does

Jimmy always wants more and gets himself tangled up in a deal that he’s kept Blake out of, but when he’s discovered, it’s curtains for him. Blake has to get out of town, and better still, out of the country. Cut to his bar, the Surf Shack, in Coral Shoals on the east coast of Australia. He loves the surf and plays guitar in a group. He likes the people he works with, and when things build up, he takes himself to the beach – alone.

“As usual when things niggled at him, the water changed everything. This is life, infinity, God, he thought as he let the power of the ocean lift him up and propel him. He felt good again, cleansed by the river of salt.”

The “river of salt” conceit comes up several times in different ways. First, I think, was the tears he shed for Jimmy, and later it was an actual river where he dumped some incriminating items, as you do. The water cures everything.

“The sight of the ocean opened a valve, let off steam. He pulled in to his favourite spot, took a deep breath. No matter how bad things were going, no matter what you did wrong in your dumb life, the water and the salt healed it. Holding his board, he waded into the sea, let it melt him, make it one with itself.”

There are several supporting characters with distinct personalities (meaning even someone like me doesn’t get them confused!), and there’s a particularly brutal murder (although it’s not described in gory detail).

Blake is handsome, like Troy Donahue, although someone later mentions James Garner, who would seem to have nothing in common with Troy except he was also American. But I’m being picky.

My Goodreads review shows a photo of Troy Donahue as I remember him in the red jacket

Blake's right-hand in the bar is Doreen, who lusts after him privately but sleeps with other men, while he seems equally attracted to her but carries on with Carol, a footloose girl who works at the Golf Club. Enough of the that.

Sergeant Nalder is what would be a sheriff in an American story – the local cop in a small town, who yearns to be a member of the Golf Club. (I capitalise that to show how important it is in this little place.) 

“A large man with a sizeable beer gut, Nalder was sneaking out of his forties, having disguised himself for many a year as early-fifties.”

Blake has tried to lie low and keep his head down, but when two gangsters try to sell him “insurance” for the Surf Shack, and one of his crew gets bashed and then a girl gets murdered and another of his crew is blamed, he just has to start investigating himself. 

I found the first half slow going and the second half more interesting. It’s a good read, but I have a few quibbles which I’ll put behind spoilers because they probably won’t bother other readers.

(My Goodreads review includes a few complaints.)

All in all, I’m sure there will be plenty of fans for this one. Thanks to #NetGalley and Fremantle Press for the preview copy of #RiverOfSalt from which I’ve quoted.
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This is a good introduction to a series. A lot of characterization and setting building up. The premise of a mafia killer from Philly' s  relocation to an Aussie beach in the early sixties is a good one. The mystery was a little weak but the development detracted from it. There is a musical element with a beach bar band, too. Kind of reminds me of a gritty Elvis movie. 

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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Australia has been consistently producing some sublime authors with their equally sublime offerings in recent years and Dave Warner's River of Salt is no exception. With a beautifully crafted, thrilling plot, a cast of well-developed characters and plenty of surprises, this is a superb, original and thoroughly engaging read. What makes it unique in particular is that it harks back to the 1960s and this gives a totally different and wholly welcome feel to it all. Blake is a bad boy with a softer side who has left his life of crime and association with the mob behind in search of a quieter life. You simply can't help but like him. As for the rest of the characters they are all flawed and realistic as a result.

The descriptions of the setting, Coral Shoals, are vivid and gorgeous making you envious of Blake's newfound freedom but it isn't to last and he soon becomes embroiled in a murder investigation of which he is the main suspect. In fact, the setting is a character in itself. Once you start reading you are rapidly pulled into this fictional world where bad guys lurk around every corner awaiting your downfall. This is a perfect fit for those who enjoy character-driven thrillers with a distinctive cast. I look forward to reading more from Mr Warner.

Many thanks to Fremantle Press for an ARC.
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River of Salt by Dave Warner

Filled with references from the 60’s this book brought back many memories of my life...not of being in the mob or a hitman but of songs and cars and beaches and fashion and so much more. I can’t say I understood main character hitman Blake but I did like him – in spite of his profession. I like a bad guy with a heart of gold and Blake Sullivan was such a man. This book made me think of movies and television shows of the 60’s and had me hoping that Blake could keep his little slice of heaven in Australia. The characters in this book are not perfect and all had flaws...believable flaws that made them human. This is one murder mystery that had me guessing almost to the very end. The suspects who might have been the murderer were many and all plausible. This is the first book I have read by this author and I have to say that I would definitely be interested in readng more of his work when I find it. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Fremantle Press for the ARC – This is my honest review. 

5 Stars
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River of Salt was my first Dave Warner book and I have to say that I loved it.  One of my reading goals for this year to read more Australian writers and Dave Warner has certainly got my attention with this book.  I didn't want to put it down, I became hooked on the lives of the locals of Coral Shoals and wanted to know how it was going to end.. The main characters in this book were all on their own journeys in 1960's Queensland, a time so different to current days - the days before mobile phones and social media.  People would talk and listen to music - it seemed so much more relaxed and friendly.  I hope that we will hear more from these characters in future books, I don't believe we have heard the end of their stories yet.

The story begins in Philadelphia  where Blake Saunders has to give up his own brother to save himself from the mob.  Fast forward 2 years and he has made himself a new life and home in a small coastal town in Queensland where he spends his days surfing, playing guitar and running his own bar - the Surf Shack.  Life is good again.  That is until a women is found murdered in a local motel and Blakes employee and friend is arrested for the murder.  Blake knows that he is innocent and sets out to prove it, and find the real killer.  The towns secrets start to come to light but he will not stop until his friend is free.

Dave Warner sets the scene in the story so well - a time when the world was just discovering The Beatles, music was on vinyl, women were the lesser sex and racism is rife. You can see it as you are reading it and I think this book would be a great movie or series.

Thanks to Fremantle Press and Netgalley for my advanced copy of this book to read.  All opinions are my own and are in no way biased.
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After his brother was killed in the early 1960s, Blake Saunders ran away from his past as a hit man for the Philadelphia mob all the way to the other side of the world. Although he can never forget his brother or his past, now he surfs, runs a bar and plays guitar with his group in a small Queensland beach town. This paradise is shattered when a young women, passing through the town, is killed in a gruesome murder at the local motel. When a man Blake employs and knows is innocent is arrested and the only policeman in town not interested in finding the real killer, Blake must put together the clues and find the murderer on his own.

I really enjoyed the writing in this novel. It has a slower pace than most murder mysteries but really sets the scene of what life was like in small Australian beachside towns in the 1960s. I enjoyed the details of the people in Blake's life from his employees Doreen and Andy to his band mates Duck and Panza as well as the surf music played by the band in this pre-Beatles era. Warner takes time to flesh out his characters and the life of the town including the teenagers involved in a dance competition at the bar and the privileged  class who live in 'the heights' and have much sought after membership of the golf club. This all adds richness and background which ultimately informs the mystery of the dead woman and will reveal the identity of the murderer after a few twists along the way. 

This is the first novel I have read by Dave Warner but I have now firmly added myself as the latest member of his fan club.
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From the moment I started reading this book I couldn't put it down, kept me up late at night when I had to get early the next morning. I would highly recommend this book.
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Blake Saunders is a hitman for a Philadelphia crime mob. When his brother crosses one of the local bosses, Blake is forced to flee. He eventually ends up in Australia, where he runs a surf bar in a quiet seaside town and tries to bury his past. When a young girl is murdered nearby there is evidence that connects her to Blake's bar and he starts to receive unwelcome attention. When the city cops arrest a mate, Blake is convinced they are wrong and sets out to solve the crime himself.

This novel, set in the 1960s, is a bit of a change for Warner, who normally sets his crime novels in contemporary Western Australia. I found Blake's character to be a bit of a stretch, but that's not too distracting. There are plenty of plot twists and a sense of the world changing for both Blake and the Australia he now lives in.

Warner writes with a fair bit of affection about 60s music, especially surf rock, calling to mind his own past as a musician, something missing from the other novels of his that I've read. This adds a bit of additional interest to what is already a pretty competent crime novel.
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Really enjoyed this book. Love the Aussie flavour added to a good crime story. Spanning 2 hemispheres this book is highly recommended.
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This is an interesting combination of stories- brothers who do whatever is necessary for sheer survival, even to an extreme. Saving oneself is critical, and moving as far away from the scene of the crime is a crucial first step. The saying is that it is a small world, and inevitably trouble is always close behind. 

A murder precipitates all sorts of revelations and relationship changes. There are a few different levels in this book, action and insight. I think I would prefer more action.

Its a fun crime drama, and I did enjoy the ending. The aspects of Australia were interesting.
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Atmosphere  ~ Character-Driven ~ Beachy

tl; dr: Philadelphia hitman relocates to Australia when things get back. Things take a while to get better. 

Blake is a hitman who needs to disappear. He pops back up in Australia as a musician. The book was fast-paced and well-written. It is a weird mash-up though of hard-boiled and introspective. Poor Blake is a classic conflicted bad-guy with a heart of gold. A murder in Australia sets off a whole lot of soul searching. 

This is a solid book that just wasn't for me. I love historical mysteries, and enjoy Australia. I think I just didn't vibe with the main character. I will say the book got much more enjoyable about 1/2 way through. 

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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River of Salt by Dave Warner is a pretty decent crime fiction/mystery with strong literary aspects to it. If you're basically a genre specific reader, like myself, don't let the idea of "serious" fiction keep you from reading this one. That would be a mistake.

A quick set-up. Blake Saunders has a dark past, just a couple of years ago he was an up-and-coming hitman in Philadelphia. Things got bad, things got worse. Skip ahead... Now Blake owns a bar in a tiny coastal town in Australia. He surfs, he plays guitar in his own band, it's like paradise. And then it isn't. A brutal murder starts a chain of events that results in Blake having to come to terms with who he is, who he wants to be, and how he can get his world back in order.

The story centers around four major characters in the tiny coastal town of Coral Shoals: Blake, the bar owner with the dark past - Doreen, a former dancer who manages Blake's Surf Shack bar - Sergeant Leslie Nalder, the local constable who, for twelve pounds a month, turns a blind eye when necessary so that Blake can continue to prosper - Kitty, a local teenaged girl who serves as a sort of symbol for the way times are beginning to change. 

I really enjoyed this book. It seemed to really capture the essence of the early pre-Beatles '60s (or rather what I imagine it was like since it was just a bit before my time).

There are plenty of good plot twists that kept me guessing. I was most impressed by how well the author created a distinct "voice" for each of the main characters. It really brought them to life. 

My one complaint is that there is an awful lot of introspective soul searching among the four main characters. Don't get me wrong, it's done well, it just doesn't fit my personal taste. I'm good with some ambivalence or indecision and whatnot but there's a point where I find it tedious. Again, it's just a personal preference.

I would recommend River of Salt to any reader who likes a more introspective, character driven mystery.

***Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
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I’m not sure where to start with this one, from the outset I should have loved this book but I just didn’t . It’s not a bad book by any means , it’s a good book, it’s quite fast paced but it just feels a bit , I don’t know, doomed all the way through, there are no elements of comedy to lighten the mood but then it’s a murder mystery... So it’s set in Australia in the 60s, an American mob hit man on the run trying to start a fresh in a new world, I’ll be honest I felt like the book was set in the America the whole time , the odd Aussie slang brought me back to Australia every now and then.a prostitutes body has been found brutally murdered and the police looking for a quick close, finger one of Blake’s friends and so on the tale and whodunnit begins in the small town, everyone man is a suspect and the local police man just won’t get involved,he just wants the problem gone and his peaceful little town back ...step forward Blake. Blake is in an interesting character but he’s almost boring, his character Arc is interesting and the book had a good ending and kept you guessing just enough to keep you going.but maybe just not for me, thank you to netgalley for the free copy. 3*
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Blake Saunders is an interesting character living in a distant place. The novel opens with Blake working as a hit man for the Philly mob. It is cold, winter, and his older brother Jimmy got him into this life. Blake is good at the guitar and they see a way out. But there is only room for one sadly. Life fast forwards and Blake is making a new life in Australia in early 1960’s. I loved the image of small coastal town Australia in another time. Blake has opened a successful bar. The book has lots of interesting characters I enjoyed getting to know. I really liked the development of Blake working to solve the murder of a working girl, Val Stokes. The one story line I was never really sure about was the friendship between Doreen and Kitty. It led to a key plot point, but it may have been given more time than needed in the story. Either way, not a big deal to me. I enjoyed the story very much. Would recommend to others who enjoy crime thrillers with a bit of melancholy to them.
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