A late-season rafting trip spells trouble for a river ranger doubling as an adventure tour guide.
Mandy Tanner (Wicked Eddies, 2012, etc.) still spends her summers patrolling the Arkansas River in her home state of Colorado. But she and fiance Rob Juarez want so much to build up the client base of their fledgling RM Outdoor Adventures that they take a group on an October rafting/mountaineering trip down the Colorado River, which happens to be in Utah. To accommodate the climbers, they add Tom “Cool” O’Day to RM regulars Gonzo and Kendra. This late in the season, the placid waters of Lake Powell and the whitewater of Cataract Canyon will be so deserted that Mandy hopes the dozen hardy souls signed up for the tour get along. They don’t. West Coast multicultural gal pals Betsy, Mo and Viv are fine. They spend most of their time in their tent drinking box wine. Tina Norton, however, had the bright idea of inviting both of her divorced parents on the trip, and geology professor Elsa can’t help sniping mercilessly at her wimpy ex, Paul. The Andersons may be even worse. Out-of-shape parents Hal and Diana expect an outdoor Ritz Carlton, complete with valet service. Adult children Alice, Amy and Alex squabble. Amy’s husband, Les Williams, is a braggart and a bully. When Alex is mauled to death by a marauding bear, the trip swiftly spirals out of control. With their radio busted and no one on the trails to call for help, the RM crew has no choice other than to continue until they reach their designated take-out point at the end of Cataract. But naturalist Mo’s observation that the claw marks found on Alex aren’t the ones you’d expect from the canyon’s native black bears set Mandy on edge with fears of still more destruction ahead.
Figuring out which river is in which state is just the beginning of readers’ frustration, as Groundwater squanders her opportunities for complex interactions among interesting characters, focusing instead on how her heroine’s virtue shines imperishably through.