Your Preview Verdict: The River Mouth by Karen Herbert

Your Preview Verdict: The River Mouth by Karen Herbert

Fifteen-year-old Darren Davies is found facedown in the Weymouth River with a gunshot wound to his chest. The killer is never found. Ten years later, his mother receives a visit from the local police. Sandra’s best friend has been found dead on a remote Pilbara road, and Barbara’s DNA matches the DNA found under Darren’s fingernails. When the investigation into her son’s murder is reopened, Sandra begins to question what she knew about her best friend. As she digs, she discovers that there are many secrets in her small town, and that her murdered son had secrets too.

Read some great reviews from our Preview readers here:

10 years ago Sandra’s 15 year old son Darren is shot dead and left lying in the river. His killer is never found, there seems to be no reason for his death. When her best friend Barbara dies alone in the desert, Darren’s case is reopened after Barbara’s DNA matches that left on his body. Could the woman who had been closer than family to Sandra be the one who tore her family apart? The River Mouth is a slow burn type of story, skilfully introducing complex, believable characters. Told from the viewpoints of Sandra and Colin, Darren’s best friend, the story flips between the present and the aftermath of Barbara’s death and the past, leading up to Darren’s, laying bare interwoven small town secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and cannot wait for Karen Herbert’s next. Thank you to Better Reading and Fremantle Press! Juanita, NSW, 5 Stars

The River Mouth is a captivating book from start to finish. I feel the story revolves around Sandra, the murder of her son and the death of her best friend Barbara. Cleverly the story follows two different timelines the days leading up to Darren’s death and the days following Barbara’s death. I really enjoyed this as it was a great way to get to know more about Darren, his friends and what he did. We learnt that the town has a few secrets of its own and so do some people. Both sides of the story show friendship and loyalty and how far people will go. With it’s many twists and turns the secrets and lies, the how and the why, the need to uncover the killer will draw you in and keep you reading until the last page. An amazing debut book. Ann-Marie, SA, 5 Stars

The River Mouth by Karen Herbert is an Australian debut crime fiction novel. It is tightly plotted, with believable, well drawn characters and clearly described settings that will make you think you have been there. The plot is interspersed with some nasty interactions between characters, which is very telling regarding the town’s racial and criminal histories, bigotries and racism. The main character Sarah is well drawn, middle-aged, hard working, tired and still searching for answers as to who murdered her 15 year old son, 10 years ago. Whether the ending leaves hers, or the reader, satisfied, time will tell. The River Mouth is an excellent debut novel. Highly recommended. In fact I think it would make great Australian movie. Harlan, NSW, 5 Stars

Thank you Better Reading for the opportunity to read The River Mouth by Karen Herbert. This is an absorbing Aussie read!! I loved this book for the mystery, different characters and the twists through out!! Switching between the past and present this book is an awesome read. A small town that has many secrets and Every character has their secrets and they come out 10 years after an unsolved murder. Highly recommended. Judy, NSW, ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 Stars

The River Mouth was such an engaging debut novel. It is set in a seaside small town and follows the story of Sandra, whose son Darren was murdered 10 years earlier. This book moves between Sandra’s story in present time and the events leading up to Darren’s death 10 years earlier. I thought this concept worked really well in this book, as the 2 different years meant that you could engage with the characters and gradually learn about who the killer was. This was a real page turner and I could not put the book down until I found out who the killer was. The build up to the ending was well done with the level of suspense and I did not guess who the killer was until just before we found out. I can’t wait to see what else Karen Herbert writes next. Rebecca, ACT, 5 Stars

A seemingly unsolved murder of a local boy at the river mouth in a small WA town….or so it would appear. The story switches between the lead up to the day of the murder where Sandra loses her only son Darren, adding tantalising insights into the reasons of place, time & opportunity, and 10 years later as this Mum learns more than she bargained for. The River Mouth ties together the lives of those in the town, forever steady, forever there even as lives change around it. All is not what it seemed and revelation after revelation shocks and confuses Sandra, she realises she didn’t know her own son, or husband, or even her best friend. But, after all is said and done everything stays the same and life, and the river mouth continue. Overall I really enjoyed the steady pace and gradual story conclusion of The River Mouth. Sue, NSW, 5 Stars

Flitting between present time and the days leading up to Darren’s death, The River Mouth had me sucked in from the start and kept guessing as to who murdered Darren and the twists it was going to take! Emma, VIC, 5 Stars

I really found The River Mouth to be an engaging read, I like how it had two different parts to it, intense, couldn’t put down page turner. Very descriptive small country town location with subtle clues along the way to keep you guessing till very end. Julie, NSW, 5 Stars

Wow!!! This has a brilliant plot. The characters are exciting and well thought out. This town has a long story of racial and criminal history. A book of stunning crime fiction. I just couldn’t put it down to the very end. Just kept me up at night. A must read…. Full stars for this wonderful author, Karen Herbert. Noeleen, WA, 5 Stars

The River Mouth is a unique book with well defined characters and a plot that is set 10 years apart. Trying to understand her 15 year old son’s death and not knowing why he was killed and by whom, Sandra is at a loss when her best friend is discovered murdered. She is even more surprised to learn that DNA found under Darren’s fingers matches that of her best friend. This is where the characters really come to life. You think you know someone but soon discover another side to their personalities and the secrets they are holding on to. A refreshing reading that kept me guessing until the end. Nicole, NSW, 4 Stars

Traditionally, this book is not the usual sort I would seek out, but I was interested to see where it would take me. Jumping forward 10 years after Barbara’s son Darren is murdered and found in the river, her best friend is found murdered too. The books burns slowly, leaving you constantly questioning which twist and turn will come next. Friendship and loyalty are key and secrets are uncovered, but should well enough be left alone? I was surprised when I saw that it was Karen Herbert’s first novel, it reads with years of experience and talent, I was impressed. The crush of a small town in WA was very believable, having lived there myself for 20+ years and was captured beautifully by Ms Herbert. The different perspectives over the years is a wonderful contrast and is a great take on a novel, though it can trip you up if you’re not paying close attention. All in all, a great novel. Emily, WA, 4 Stars

Karen Herbert has captured the experience of living in a small country town so beautifully. A story of family, loss and generational secrets. A mother whose son’s death, destroys her family and the life she knows. A teenage boy who is haunted by his friends death and the secrets it generates. Reminiscent of Jane Harper’s The Dry, The River Mouth is an easy read you can devour quickly during lockdown. Mel, VIC, 4 Stars

I was initially attracted to The River Mouth by the title (my Mob being Freshwater People from the Murray Darling Basin). Despite being set in a coastal town (& bringing back fond memories of going out on my friend’s dads cray boat) the river plays a crucial role in this story, most importantly as the scene of the death of Sandras’ son, Darren. There are parts of the book which are upsetting and could be triggering for Indigenous Australians (just a warning to other Mob out there) but nothing is explored very deeply. I enjoyed the book but would have preferred a different resolution. Ayesha, NSW, 4 Stars

If you love a good murder mystery then this book is for you. The River Mouth is a compelling coming of age story set in a small town that deals with the friendship between three young teenage boys, their families and the secrets they hold. The story centers around the 10 year old murder investigation of local boy Darren. As chapters flash between past and present, the gripping story unfolds revealing what happened in the lead up to Darren’s death as well as the aftermath and the re-opening of his murder investigation when new evidence appears 10 years on. With each chapter the tension builds and piece by piece we discover what happened to Darren as well as all the secrets and lies buried in the small community. A moving and intriguing story this book offers so much and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A real page turner that really keeps you guessing until the very end. Melissa, VIC, 4 Stars

A beautifully woven story showing the heartbreak of grief, the value of true friendship and the corruption which can hide beneath the surface of any small town. The River Mouth follows two timelines and perspectives; Sandra in the present day dealing with the idea that her best friend may have had something to do with her son’s death a decade before and Colin in the past, showing the events that took place leading up to the death of his best friend, Darren. Having the story unfold this way was extremely engaging making this whodunnit a page turner that was difficult to put down. Karen Herbert is an incredibly talented writer and it is hard to believe this is her debut. Her writing of the setting was particularly vivid, to the point that the landscape was its own vital character. Unlike other mystery books there were the perfect amount of potential suspects in the murder, with no characters there solely to pad out guesses for the reader. I look forward to picking up anything Karen Herbert writes in the future. Her character development is impeccable. Jaclyn, WA, 4 Stars

Gotta love a slow burner… This tale of small town secrets kept me guessing. Told between timelines ten years apart, Karen Herbert does a fine job of placing the reader in a small West Australian town with vivid descriptions of people and place. The Pilbara comes alive under her masterful telling. Her characters are so believable and exquisitely drawn that you can picture those teenagers like they are your next door neighbours. It evoked the grief of parents, the closeness of friendships and the lies that families will tell to protect their own, and their own backs. Ideal for readers who enjoy a mystery or crime narrative I highly recommend this one. Karan, VIC, 4 Stars

Intriguing read from start to finish, it leaves you constantly guessing what happened to Darren and what secrets people are hiding. As Sandra seeks answers to who killed her teenage son ten years ago and why, she finds more questions than answers. The lead up to Darren’s death is told through the adventures, mishaps and friendship of three teenage boys – Darren, Colin and Tim. Set in a small regional community, the story explores cultural diversity, disadvantage, crime, aged care and family dynamics. Great debut novel by an Australian author. Bree, NSW, 4 Stars

Really enjoyed this book! The Then and Now concept worked so well, kept you invested till the last page! With an ending you just didn’t see coming! Fantastic! Karina, NSW, 4 Stars

An intriguing story with multiple threads and relationships, that weaves between the present and the past, focusing on the days before and after the murder of a young man. The killer is not found until the death of his mother’s friend ten years later, results in the case being reopened. What unfolds is an exposure of small community culture and secrets, and the towns racial and different characters criminal histories. The exposure of tightly guarded secrets held within the community and by the murdered son is central to the plot. The novel cleverly builds to the identification of an unexpected murderer. Geoff, WA, 4 Stars

I recently received a copy of The River Mouth by Karen Herbert thanks to #BRpreview, @betterreadingau and @Fremantle press. It’s a coming of age tale of growing up in a small outback community, and the tight bonds and friendships formed and the loyalty code that goes with that friendship sometimes for a lifetime. It contains an unsolved murder mystery which extends over a decade. There are lots of plot twists which keep you guessing till the final pages. It was a thoroughly engaging story which will become an epic anthem for readers young and older in years to come about loyalty, trust, friendship and the truth and integration of diverse cultures in our remote communities. Loved it. Janet, NSW, 4 Stars

The River Mouth is a roller coaster of a who done it! Sandra Davies’ son, Darren, was murdered ten years ago and the person responsible was never brought to justice. Fast forward to the present and Sandra’s best friend, Barbara, is found dead out in the Pilbara. Barbara’s DNA matches the DNA found under Darren’s fingernails. The book starts with that shocking revelation and doesn’t let up! The book follows two different timelines: the days leading up to Darren’s death and the days following Barbara’s death. Both timelines were equally compelling and came together nicely at the end. I loved the depiction of the unique relationships between the different mothers and sons but all may not be what it seems. The town has a few secrets of its own that come to light. The book also looks at racism, the plight of the homeless and elderly parents. This is a great thriller with a difference – it’s all about the how and why. The author does an excellent job in keeping you guessing up until the very end. Kecia, NSW, 4 Stars

With one of the best opening chapters I have ever seen, this book is a mesmerising story. Sandra’s son Darren has been dead 10 years when her best friend Barbara dies in the outback. Why was Barbara’s DNA under her son’s nails? With the investigation into her sons murder now reopened, Sandra has to relive the horror of Darren’s murder all over again. With chapters that cross over from the past and now, this book will have you guessing until the end. There are so many people that could be suspects, and many story threads that keep the pages turning. This book is a powerful statement on loyalty and friendship, while also proving that secrets can be kept and lies can remain hidden. Michele, NSW, 4 Stars

Sandra, a nurse, and her husband Greg Davies, a crayfisherman, are the adoptive parents of 15 year old Darren. They live in a town on the banks of the Weymouth River in the harsh Pilbara region of Western Australia. Sandra’s best friend is Barbara, a dedicated social worker and mother of Darren’s best friend Colin. The boys’ homes are across the sandbar and they catch the school bus together, perform rope swing stunts into the cool waters, and hang out like typical boisterous teenagers. Until Darren is shot and dies. 10 years later Barbara is found dead near her broken down car in a remote location. Her DNA matches the scrapings identified under Darren’s fingernails. The community and police surmise that she is the elusive murderer, but Sandra vehemently rejects the idea. The murder investigation is reopened but it is Colin’s story beginning 25 days before the shooting that incrementally provides the pertinent clues: a homeless man, a mysterious rapist, a wandering geriatric, a missing gun, a molester grandfather, shots fired at a haunted ruin, a scarf dropped by a foiled intruder. Everyone has been keeping secrets, innocuous or harmful, from friends, parents, partners and police. After Barbara’s funeral more truths are revealed: drug running, trust accounts, paternity, and another body. But is the intrigue finally resolved? The River Mouth is not only an absorbing whodunnit, but examines small town options, choices and judgments. Anita, QLD, 4 Stars

The River Mouth by Karen Herbert was an interesting read. Sandra Davies lost her 15 year old son Darren when he was found dead in a river with a gunshot wound in his chest. The killer was never found. 10 years later, Sandra’s best friend is found dead in a remote area of the Pilbara, and her DNA matches the DNA that was found under Darrens fingernails at the time of his death. The story flicks between the present investigation back to before Darren was killed, slowly more clues are added. Just when you think you may have sorted out where the story is heading, another twist is added. I found it tricky at the start to work out the characters, but as I got into the story it became less of a problem. I enjoyed the story, I did not pick the final outcome, and was kept guessing right until the end. Overall a good story. Fay, VIC, 4 Stars

This book kept me entertained from start to finish. The premise is great and there is a world of secrets and actions that have unintended consequences. The setting in WA was interesting, with the underlying currents in n the town. As the book unfolded, we find out a lot about what happened 10 years before, as well as the lives of the main characters today. I would have liked to known more about Barbara, but that doesn’t detract from the story. I would like to read more from this author. Lyn, VIC, 4 Stars

Ten years ago, Darren Davies’ body was found in the river with a single gunshot to the chest. Today, his mother’s best friend, Barbara, is found dead. Darren’s DNA is under Barbara’s fingernails. Everyone knows everyone but only a few know the truth. Written in third person, the novel counts down to the day of Darren’s death, and Barbara’s recent death. Antipathy and anger waft in and out, like toxic smoke permeating every corner of this community. The reader feels like a voyeur in a police procedural as the writer takes you back and forth between the deaths. I was more interested in Darren and Barbara, than any other character and would have preferred the novel to concentrate on them and their back stories. How did Darren come to be with Sandra and Geoff? Where did Darren and Barbara originally come from? For me, the myriad characters only confused/thinned out the plot. For me, the shifting timeframes fragmented the story and detracted from any tension. The claustrophobic atmosphere of a close-knit community in a small town of Western Australia was well captured and conveyed. Thank you to Better Reading and Fremantle Press for the ARC and my honest review. Cynthia, NSW, 3 Stars

I love a good ‘whodunnit’ and this was a good attempt at the genre. Even better, the murderer was not completely obvious from page one like so many murder mysteries. The story was well written although I did find the way it went back & forth in time confusing at times. Some of the characters were also not easy to keep straight, and for mine, the book left too many loose threads at the end which were not tied up. I prefer all my mysteries solved! But overall, a good read. Wendi, VIC, 3 Stars

A whodunit that starts in the present and keeps referring back to a crime from 10 years previously. Sandra learns just how little she knew about the things going on around her and how her son ultimately was murdered. Leanne, SA, 3 Stars

I enjoyed reading The River Mouth by Karen Herbert. There were lots of plot twist and turns, so I found the story line very engaging and ultimately sad. I only wish the reader got to know some of the smaller characters a little more since they ended up playing big roles, and was wanting Sandra, one of the main characters, to be a little more enraged at many of the revelations about her sons’s murder, her husband, and her best friend. I found it difficult to understand how she was so accepting. Stevie, NSW, 3 Stars

Darren Davies is shot at the river where he and his friends always go. Ten years later his mother Sandra finds out that her best friend Barbara has been found dead in the Pilbara. Barbara’s DNA is found under Darren’s fingernails. She is accused of killing Darren. Did she shoot him.This story is set in a small town in WA. Everyone it seems has secrets including Darren. Even at the end it really isn’t known who fired the fatal shot. It could have been a number of people. I found the writing quite stilted but did enjoy the book. Vivien, ACT, 3 Stars

Acknowledgment of Cultural Fund support

Better Reading acknowledges the support provided by Copyright Agency.

Better Reading also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians on whose land our office stands: the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and their Elders past, present and emerging.


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          Publisher details

          The River Mouth
          Karen Herbert
          Fremantle Press
          28 September, 2021


          Fifteen-year-old Darren Davies is found facedown in the Weymouth River with a gunshot wound to his chest. The killer is never found. Ten years later, his mother receives a visit from the local police. Sandra’s best friend has been found dead on a remote Pilbara road, and Barbara’s DNA matches the DNA found under Darren’s fingernails. When the investigation into her son’s murder is reopened, Sandra begins to question what she knew about her best friend. As she digs, she discovers that there are many secrets in her small town, and that her murdered son had secrets too.
          Karen Herbert
          About the author

          Karen Herbert

          Karen Herbert spent her childhood in Geraldton on the midwest coast of Australia, attending local schools before moving to Perth to study at the University of Western Australia where she attained a Bachelor of Commerce with First Class Honours. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Psychology. Karen has worked in aged care, disability services, higher education, Indigenous land management, social housing and the public sector, and is a graduate member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She is a Board Member of The Intelife Group, a Board Observer at Advocare, and President of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA). Karen lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, Ross, and the occasional fledgling.

          Books by Karen Herbert


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