Review by Frank Plowright
Darnell Carpenter was a smalltown local legend who owned the Flatbed bar, which is where Myers has spent his entire life. Now Darnell is gone in less than ideal circumstances, and just out of high school, Myers has inherited the Flatbed. A lot of history and fair few secrets accompany the inheritance, and having only known one way of life Myers has to decide whether his future lies elsewhere.
It’s meant as high praise to note that writer Adam Smith and artist Matthew Fox combine so well that you’d imagine The Down River People is the work of a single creator. It’s partly because Smith has a refined intuition about when a scene would work better without words, and knows Fox will deliver exactly the right mood. Myers is a morose personality, occasionally needing medicine to maintain an equilibrium, and keeping a scene or two wordless adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. Fox supplies that in so many other small ways, flitting between the signifiers of a small town, accentuating the surrounding scenery, showing how Myers is when alone, and illustrating the reactions of the people he meets.
A nuanced plot means Myers has to reconsider his past along with his future, and some of the most engaging scenes concern Darnell, whom Myers recalls passing on sound and comforting advice in times of stress. One of so many other clever aspects is Smith’s dialogue so often being double-edged. At face value the dialogue on the sample page is normal pleasantries, but in context it could also be mildly threatening, and other such examples are scattered throughout the story.
Halfway through there’s an altogether sinister turn that shifts the emphasis from Myers’ problems to a crime story, which, cleverly, Smith has been heading toward all along. Unfortunately, though, it’s a wrong turn as what’s been about a relatable person attempting to sort out real world problems becomes more obvious dramatic fiction. It has a direct connection to what Myers needs to find, and it steers well clear of cliché, but the sea change in circumstances makes it feel as if two stories have been welded together, and a poignant ending can’t pull things back on track. Smith’s afterword reveals aspects of The Down River People to be more personal than may be assumed, but what’s a moody, five star drama until halfway becomes ordinary thereafter.