The best novels for mystery and suspense on the river

Rebecca Hodge Author Of Over the Falls
By Rebecca Hodge

Who am I?

I’ve always enjoyed time spent outdoors, and over the years I’ve done plenty of hiking and camping and some whitewater rafting and canoeing. As a result, I’m intrigued by books that excel in their portrayals of outdoor settings. A serious whitewater accident prompted me to include lots of kayaking scenes in my most recent book (Over the Falls), and so I thought it would be fun to pull together a list of other river-related books that offer suspense and/or mystery. I hope these suggestions help you add a few new stories to your reading list. 

I wrote...

Over the Falls

By Rebecca Hodge,

Book cover of Over the Falls

What is my book about?

A missing sister. An unexpected nephew. A threatened homestead.

When her fourteen-year-old nephew, Josh, turns up at her Tennessee homestead, Bryn Collins is forced out of her peaceful existence to embark on a frantic search for the sister she hates. The pair travels to Memphis and then on to the mountains of Colorado to find Josh’s mother and save them all from escalating danger. But for Bryn, the search is not her biggest challenge. To reclaim the life she loves, she must confront her past and fight the fears that keep her from the whitewater she loves.

The books I picked & why

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The River at Night

By Erica Ferencik,

Book cover of The River at Night

Why this book?

I’m always up for a page-turning thriller that’s set in the outdoors, and The River at Night kept me awake late and eager for more. This story follows four women who decide to jazz up their annual girls’ trip by whitewater rafting in the Maine wilderness. What could go wrong? Just about everything. When a freak accident leaves them stranded, they’re eager for help. But are their rescuers the saviors they first believe? Grab this book for an energizing read you won’t soon forget.  


By James Dickey,

Book cover of Deliverance

Why this book?

Since we’re already talking about intense river journeys, there’s no better book for my number two pick than Deliverance. Even if you’ve seen the movie and instantly recognize the theme song, this book is worth your time. In this classic action and adventure story, four men on a Georgia whitewater canoe trip face the trials of the river, but when they’re attacked, their challenge becomes one of primal survival. This book is often listed as one of the best of the twentieth century. 

Dragon Bones

By Lisa See,

Book cover of Dragon Bones

Why this book?

A change in pace and a change in location here as we move to China and the Yangtze River at the site of the Three Gorges Dam. This book is my favorite of the Red Princess mystery series, which features investigator Liu Hulan. In this story, the murder of an American archeologist is only the first step in a case that quickly spirals out of control. With twists and turns and vivid descriptions of Chinese society, Dragon Bones is a book you’ll remember long after you finish reading. 


By Nevada Barr,

Book cover of Borderline

Why this book?

We’re back in the United States for this choice, whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande with National Park ranger Anna Pigeon. This trip is supposed to be a relaxing vacation, but when a student is swept overboard and murder enters the picture, the journey becomes anything but routine. If you haven’t yet discovered this mystery series, which sets each book in a different National Park, Borderline is a great way to start.

Death on the Nile

By Agatha Christie,

Book cover of Death on the Nile

Why this book?

I read dozens of Agatha Christie mysteries as a teenager, but some classics are worth visiting again. This is one of them. In it, Hercule Poirot is on a luxury cruise up the Nile River, challenged to the utmost as the plot twists and the bodies pile up. Even if you’ve seen one (or more!) of the movie versions, it’s worth checking out Death on the Nile to see how a master writer does her thing. 

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