Deep Creek (Hardcover)

By Dana Hand

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9780547237480, 320pp.

Publication Date: February 10, 2010

Other Editions of This Title:
MP3 CD (6/21/2016)

List Price: 25.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Idaho Territory, June 1887. A small-town judge takes his young daughter fishing, and she catches a man. Another body surfaces, then another. The final toll: over 30 Chinese gold miners brutally murdered. Their San Francisco employer hires Idaho lawman Joe Vincent to solve the case.

Soon he journeys up the wild Snake River with Lee Loi, an ambitious young company investigator, and Grace Sundown, a métis mountain guide with too many secrets. As they track the killers across the Pacific Northwest, through haunted canyons and city streets, each must put aside lies and old grievances to survive a quest that will change them forever.

Deep Creek is a historical thriller inspired by actual events and people: the 1887 massacre of Chinese miners in remote and beautiful Hells Canyon, the middle-aged judge who went after their slayers, and the sham race-murder trial that followed. This American tragedy was long suppressed and the victims nearly forgotten; Deep Creek teams history and imagination to illuminate how and why, in a seamless, fast-moving tale of courage and redemption, loss and love. A dazzling new novel for fans of Leif Enger, Lisa See, and Ivan Doig.

About the Author

Dana Hand is the pen name of Will Howarth and Anne Matthews, who live and work in Princeton, New Jersey. Under their own names, they have published eighteen nonfiction books on American history, literature, and public issues.

Praise For Deep Creek

A Washington Post Best Novel of 2010

"The roundup of serious writers who have written Westerns [since 1966 includes], this year, Deep Creek by Dana Hand (pen name of Anne Matthews and Will Howarth), a grim and fascinating fictional account of the actual slaughter of Chinese miners in 1870s Idaho."--Allen Barra, The Daily Beast.

"[An] engrossing look at racial prejudice and the settling of the West…an insightful look at how Chinese immigrants and American Indians became the targets of rage & violence." --Publishers Weekly
"Dana Hand’s debut novel, a powerful and thorough indictment of the racial discrimination rampant in the late 19th century, takes its name from a site on the Snake River where over thirty Chinese gold miners were slaughtered...The Snake River Country is depicted as magnificent yet brutal, in both appearance and temperament, and the spare, visceral prose brilliantly evokes its harsh nature. Likewise, the characters, among the most courageous and original to be found in Western fiction, don’t reveal their secrets until they’re good and ready."—Sarah Johnson, editor, Historical Novels Review

"Dramatically, even lyrically...the authors elegantly weave an engaging, thrilling, lively narrative of how and why the gang murdered and mutilated... effortlessly wrapped in a backdrop of the growing Wild West, with self-serving land deals, nefarious connections between powerful men and the rustlers, the precariousness of frontier justice, and pervasive racism against the Chinese. A splendid read.William Wong, San Francisco Chronicle

"Astonishingly effective...a gripping, spooky historical novel, based on true events, told in a way that closely resembles real life, [yet] full of the unknown and unknowable...Joe, Lee Loi and Grace form a de facto family and help some appealing children along the way. They create another, entirely credible world, which is what America used to be all about. Deep Creek is highly ambitious and compelling, much more complex that it might appear from paraphrase. The dual authorship of this novel may have something to do with the fact that it's twice as good as it might have been otherwise."—Carolyn See, Washington Post

"... for those who love stories about well-developed characters, Deep Creek provides a host of them. Joe himself is a refreshingly offbeat Western hero: stalwart and resourceful, yes, but also thoughtful and willing to ask questions first and shoot later. Lee Loi also proves a bundle of compelling contradictions, but for me the book’s “Most Memorable Character” award goes to Grace Sundown ... a virtual embodiment of the multiple influences that make up the West — and, by extension, all of the United States. To say nothing of her smarts, daring, sly sense of humor, cussed independence and indomitable sense of self. She’s definitely one to ride the river with—even a river as treacherous and haunting as the Snake River that flows, like a bloodline, through Deep Creek.”—Carol Cling, Las Vegas Review-Journal

Conversation Starters from

The story emerges from four actions: Lee asks Joe to lead an investigation; Henry asks Grace to come and help; after a ten-year absence, Grace agrees; and Joe consents to let Grace serve as river guide. What motives, evident and secret, impel these events?  

Joe is a lawyer and investigator, able to examine bits of evidence and find cause-effect patterns. But certain liars can fool him entirely. Why? 

Grace is quick, intuitive, learned, and bitter. What are the sources of her frustrations? 

At first, Lee Loi is cheerful, self-centered, and cocky. What are the sources of his confidence? Why are his views so conventional?

A refrain in Joe’s life is How much of that is true? The recurring answer: As much as you want it to be. Why are the crimes at Deep Creek so important to him? 

On the return journey to Deep Creek, we learn that Grace has second sight and strange abilities. How does this side of her affect relations with others, especially Joe? 

When and why does Lee begin to change? What role does he play after the river trips? 

When do the three investigators truly become a team? 

How do the Chinese miners behave, as individuals and as a group? Are they strange, alien, or clannish, as their detractors claimed? What aspects of their lives are most surprising? 

Duty and honor take many forms. Is Joe a patriot? Is Jackson? Is Grace a good daughter? Is Nell? Why will Dow and Yap never break their promise to Elder Boss? 

Why is Libby Leland so calculating and controlling? Why is she so successful? 

Why is Blue Evans such a natural leader of men? What were his motives at Deep Creek? 

How would Vollmer tell this story? How would Libby? 

Why are so many of the characters wanderers, or exiles? What makes a family? 

After the trial, each character experiences a process of compensation. Explain.