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Deep Down by Karen Harper
Review by Mel Jacob
Mira Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780778326458
Date: 01 June 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Karen Harpers' new novel Deep Down continues her explorations of cultural pockets of various ethnic, religious, or geographic groups. Jessica Lockwood, born in the tiny Appalachian town of Deep Down, but educated in Lexington, Kentucky, returns to her birthplace to seek her missing mother.

Deep Downers live in the lower reaches among several Appalachian mountains and hunt wild ginseng roots called sang. Highly prized, wild sang brings premium prices. The Chinese and others seek Deep Down's wild sang for medicines, aphrodisiacs, and energy tea among some of its many uses. Her mother tracks the production of wild sang around Deep Down. The livelihood of many depends on avoiding an endangered species designation for sang.

Always suspicious of government regulations, Deep Downers want no restrictions on their age-old harvesting, which they regard as a birthright. When Mariah Lockwood, Jessie's mother, is found dead and covered with sang leaves, suspects abound. If Mariah's counts were low, many would lose. The crime scene leads some to believe reclusive Cherokee Seth Bearclaw, opposed to the harvesting, killed her, but the sheriff Drew Webb and Jessica disagree.

Jessica has loved Drew all her life, but when her mother found them together, she shipped Jessica off to Lexington. Drew joined the Marines and left town. Jessie finds her feelings for Drew unchanged, but they never discussed their separation or whether he loved her. She pushes her feelings aside to concentrate on finding her mother's killer.

Cassie Keenan, Jessie best childhood friend offers sympathy and clues to Mariah's disappearance. She has never revealed the identity of the father of her child, Pearl. A wildcrafter like Mariah, she loves the forests and their bounty and sells moss and dried herbs. She also cultivates a patch of poisonous plants she plans to use for revenge on Pearl's father who deserted her when he learned of her pregnancy. Revenge drives her until Pearl ingests some of the herbs and becomes ill.

A strange apparition appears in one blurred photo and may offer a clue to Mariah's death. Another death follows and an arson fire destroys Sam's cabin. Drew worries Jessie who plans to continue her mother's work and may be the next target.

New York Times bestselling author Harper has had a long and successful career beginning with historical romances and alternating with her explorations of various cultural groups. Her skill at building suspense shows in the climax to Deep Down. Readers can expect more quality novels from her in the future.

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