BOOK REVIEW: 'Ruin Falls': Thriller Explores Gaps in a Woman's Knowledge of Her Husband

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

How much does a wife know about her husband? Really, really know? In Liz Daniels'  case, the lack of knowledge about her college professor husband Paul Daniels in Jenny Milchman's  "Ruin Falls" (Ballantine Books, 352 pages, $26.00) leads inexorably to almost unendurable terror.

Everything starts out fine, with Liz, Paul and their children, six-year-old daughter Ally and eight-year-old son Reid on a rare road trip from their home in New York state's Adirondack mountains to Paul's parents in the farming country of western New York state. 

BOOK REVIEW: 'Ruin Falls': Thriller Explores Gaps in a Woman's Knowledge of Her Husband

The trip should have triggered alarm wires in Liz's mind, because visits to Matthew and Mary Daniels have been few and far between and Paul's relationship with his father, in particular, is strained. 

Paul is a well regarded professor at an agricultural college, adored by his students as an important figure in organic and ecologically sensitive farming. Liz and Jill, her best friend have a two-acre  boutique organic farm, really a big garden, growing produce for the upscale farmers' markets where customers pay more for local food. The business, Roots, is operated out of Liz and Paul's house because they live in the valley, while Jill lives in town.

On the way to the farm, Paul suggests that they stay at a hotel, rather than try to make the trip uninterrupted. The next morning  Liz goes to check her sleeping children and find that Ally and Reed are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice-cold terror as the hours tick by without anyone finding a trace of the kids. Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, and detectives are called in.

As the story of the search unfolds, Milchman weaves in seemingly unrelated narratives of families divided by custody disputes. Liz uncovers a website and with the help of a high school friend, Tim Lurcquer, now her hometown's police chief, she comes across a startling chat room that promises to its members a society where ecology is in balance and mindless consumerism is a thing of the past: two key elements of Paul Daniels' philosophy at Eastern Ag.

Terror in seemingly ordinary activities is a hallmark of "Ruin Falls," the followup novel to Milchman's debut novel  "Cover of Snow," published by Ballantine in January 2013. I haven't read that novel, but I'm going to try to get a copy! 

In an email conversation with the author,  I suggested that Joyce Carol Oates and Ira Levin came to mind as influences. Milchman said both authors were influences, and was surprised that I had named Levin (1929-2007) author of the best-selling horror novels "Rosemary's Baby," "The Stepford Wives," "The Boys from Brazil" and "A Kiss Before Dying." All were made into feature films, as well as his novel "Sliver." Milchman said I was the only reviewer who mentioned Ira Levin.

"A Kiss Before Dying," one of my favorite Levin novels, according to the Nov. 14, 2007 New York Times obituary, “ won the 1954 Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America. It was filmed twice, in 1956 with Robert Wagner; and in 1991 with Matt Dillon. I prefer the 1956 film.

Levin and Oates were obvious -- to me, at least -- influences, but I want to emphasize that Jenny Milchman has her own literary voice and it's a good one. I look forward to future novels from this talented writer.

Jenny Milchman
Jenny Milchman

About the author

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from the Hudson River Valley of New York state. Her debut novel, "Cover of Snow", was published by Ballantine/Random House in January 2013 and her follow up novel, "Ruin Falls" was published in April 2014. Her short story 'The Closet' was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 2012, and another short story, 'The Very Old Man', will be published in EQMM this year. The short work 'Black Sun on Tupper Lake' appears in the anthology ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II.

Jenny is the Chair of International Thriller Writers' Debut Authors Program. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, which was celebrated in all 50 states and four foreign countries by over 700 bookstores in 2013. Jenny hosts the Made It Moments forum on her blog, which has featured more than 250 international bestsellers, Edgar winners, and independent authors. Jenny co-hosts the literary series Writing Matters, which attracts guests coast-to-coast and has received national media attention. She also teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and Arts By The People.

Jenny Milchman's website:

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