The Mill River Recluse is one of many books I’ve recently picked up for free or very cheap via BookBub. Nearly everything on the daily email list is free or $0.99, so if it looks interesting, I’ll grab it. That’s exactly what I did with this book. It looked intriguing, and it was. It’s a quiet book; almost an anomaly in a world of fast-paced thrillers, fantasy and mystery.
This was a charming, warm-hearted story set in fictional Mill River, Vermont. On the hill overlooking this pretty town is a great marble mansion. It’s sole inhabitant is an old woman most of the town’s residents have never seen. Yet unbeknownst to them, she has been taking an interest in their lives for decades and has been an anonymous benefactor to many of them.
The story begins with the old woman’s death, and the rest of the story is told in flashbacks to her early life, alternated with the story of her final gifts to the town and its people. The flashbacks are a bit upsetting. The reasons for the old woman’s isolation are rooted in several deeply traumatic experiences, leaving her with unbearable social anxiety. Her only contact with the outside world is the local priest, who has dedicated his life to taking care of her.
A surprising amount of tension is built up toward the end, as Chan keeps us wondering about the old woman’s bequest. In addition, there is a charming subplot involving a local police officer and a recently arrived elementary school teacher, along with her unwanted admirer-turned-stalker.
The ending is ultimately very satisfying; warm and fuzzy without being saccharine-sweet. It reminded me a bit of the Mitford series, with its gentle pace and good-hearted characters.
I was gratified to learn that this was self-published, and has sold over 650,000 copies. The writing is really good, the presentation is professional, and it deserves the recognition it’s getting. I was also happy to hear that Ms. Chan is working on a sequel, also set in Mill River. I’ll be looking forward to it!