According to The American Heritage Dictionary, hypocrisy is defined as “the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold up or possess; insincerity.” Most people abhor hypocrisy, and yet many are guilty of it as well. After all, we are human and intrinsically flawed. Diane Dunning’s ebook, The River Secrets, delves into this issue. Are there levels to hypocrisy? And better yet are there levels to sin? Does your notion of sin depend on the identity of the sinner?
The River Secrets centers on two lovers: Anthony and Francis. Anthony is a nun living in a convent in rural Illinois. Francis is a Father in the Catholic Church. Even though their love is forbidden by their vows, they cannot ignore their passion and carnal desires. At first, their love does not seem wrong to either one of them. Sister Louise, another nun in the convent, declares to Anthony that she feels doubt and she thought that when she became a nun she “would feel the love of God grow in me every day. That I would feel at each moment I was serving Him and His people, and that His love would grow with each action I took.” When Louise asks Anthony if she ever feels doubt, her answer to Louise is enigmatic. “I found my way to the mystery of God through love. And through love, truth and mercy, I’ll carry out my role in His world.” Before Louise can question her further as to her meaning they are interrupted leaving the reader to decide if Anthony is talking about her love of God or her love for Father Francis.
One night their bliss is shattered by the appearance of Bishop Burns. The bishop has a reputation that is widespread. He has been accused of inappropriate sexual relations, including the molestation of two young boys. However, these rumors do not stick. He is a charming, smooth talker who can convince people to see things his way. When news arrives at the convent that the bishop will be staying there for a few weeks to rest, many eyebrows are raised.
After a lover’s tryst by the river during the night, Anthony and Francis witness a man rushing by with a bundle. The man looks raving mad. After further investigation, the lovers discover that Bishop Burns is attempting to bury a body. Both are horrified. The crazed bishop blackmails the two to help him dispose of the body. If they don’t help, he will expose their affair. He states, “Yes, you two are going to help me bury this body. To save your own souls. You see there’s no crueler judgment than that of fellow man. No crueler hell than this earth.” Francis realizes that he has no choice. Burns has people who have bailed him out of trouble before and would probably do so again. Francis has no such power. Helping with the cover-up not only threatens both their souls, but their lives. Anthony wonders if this is her punishment for her sin.
Dunning’s tale twists and turns to the bitter end. I knew no good would come of this fateful night, however, I did not expect the ending. It was shocking and will make you question if there is any goodness in people.
While her story revolves around sin, her prose is beautiful. She conjures up descriptions that take you inside the story and the characters’ minds. The following describes Anthony’s thoughts and feelings while out on a walk during the early morning hours.
“The sun’s first rays swept up in the east, casting a clean light across the corn stalks that covered the land as far as the eye could see. It was on mornings like these she most strongly felt God’s presence. He was there with her. He cognizant of her and she cognizant of Him. She could feel His breath in the cool morning breeze as it shook the fabric of her clothes, caressed her face and swam through her fingers as she held up her hand. She could see His hand stroke the silky yellow tops of the corn stalks as the plants swayed with the sweeping gusts of wind.”
Diane Dunning has been writing professionally for the past 20 years. She lives in the Monterey Bay area in California. Her blog, “Backing Down the Driveway” features her short stories. Her ebook, The River Secrets, is 19,000 words and even though it is small she packs a lot of punch into this gritty tale about love, passion, religion, murder, and sin. The story is driven by the plot. If there was more character development I would have given the story 5 out of 5 stars. Instead, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.