The River (A Jack Slack Shoebox Dialogue) by George Benda brings us the tale of a young, public policy scientist Jack Slack who is brought in to manage a difficult situation in the 1970’s when the citizens of Illinois and the farmers of Indiana were at loggerheads on how best to manage the Kankakee River Basin which flowed through both states and periodically caused significant flooding issues for Indiana and especially for its farmers. Jack has to navigate a wild confluence of political, moral and scientific intrigue to discover a solution that satisfies all parties and ensures the beauty of the Kankakee River will remain for generations to come. In the process Jack, his girlfriend, his friends and even his employer will become the target of unscrupulous politicians with their own agendas to feed and the willingness to indulge in violence and corruption. Set in the post-Watergate era, this story is one of local political intrigue and the search for “truth”, especially scientific “truth”.
George Benda has produced an interesting story here in The River (A Jack Slack Shoebox Dialogue), in which he attempts to combine philosophical discussion, scientific argument and practices, a rigorous moral questioning, with all the expected elements of a top thriller. Does he achieve this? To a limited extent, yes. The philosophical discussions I found particularly enjoyable and the idea of seeking not so much “the truth” of an argument, but going even deeper and searching for what is “truth” itself, was quite fascinating. The writer uses a very clipped style, with short sentences and very short scenes. As a reader, I did find the constant chopping and changing between scenes, at times distracting, but overall, the story flows well as Jack recounts, via the items stored in a shoebox, those tumultuous days of over 50 years ago, when he was just starting his career as a scientist and a public servant. The real animosity and rancour that had developed over the Kankakee River Basin, between its inhabitants for over a century, was well documented by the author and I found the read pleasurable and quick. This is a good thriller, with quite a lot more deep thinking involved than perhaps your average thriller. Kudos to the author, for that.