The River Widow

Written by Ann Howard Creel
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Adah Branch and her family are caught up in the disastrous 1937 flood in Paducah, Kentucky. Rescuing items from their farm, Adah’s husband Lester becomes furious that she isn’t following his commands and punches her in the face. She lands in the mud. Fed up with his abuse, she grabs a shovel and whacks him in the head. To her horror, she realizes she’s killed him. Adah, afraid no one will believe it was an accident, drags his body to the rushing, rising Ohio River, and dumps it in. Swept away in the river herself, she’s rescued and has no one to turn to but Lester’s cruel family. Reunited with the stepdaughter she’s raised, Adah must accept their reluctant charity, but plans her escape with the child she failed to legally adopt. The sinister Branches have other ideas—they instantly accuse her of murder—and Adah fears for her life. Adah also has a second chance at love, but will the child’s safety, away from her nasty relatives, come first?

This is a compelling, complex tale, told in fluid, descriptive prose. The Branch family are near-caricatures of evil, yet their machinations kept me on edge. The details of tobacco farming are interesting and never bog down the story. Adah can be naïve, especially for one of her background. The choices she must make are heartbreaking. Creel’s description of the setting, and Adah’s struggle in the river, is breathtaking. I could sure use a sequel to this book. Recommended.