Home Arts Review: Dan Hecht’s ‘The Body Below’ 

Review: Dan Hecht’s ‘The Body Below’ 

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Dan Hecht’s eighth novel, “The Body Below” (Blackstone Publishing, Inc., 2023), introduces the title character, the (dead) body as the driving force of the plot, which opens on a clear Vermont reservoir with a gruesome discovery by the narrator during a long swim. His foot encounters something creepy but indistinct passing by. By the second page, I was horrified and hooked on both the mystery and by recognizing the familiar dread of touching something unfamiliar and gross beneath the water.

Besides Hecht’s well-drawn characters, Vermont itself, its landscape and its people, plays a central role in the novel. Hecht has a strong sense of place and a clear affection for the rural character of central Vermont and the glorious diversity of its people. 

If you’re a long-time local, you may recognize echoes of specific people, events, or community disputes over the years: an unsolved disappearance from Waterbury, the challenges of Class 4 roads, a town clerk’s office only open on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., differences between a Montpelier “fern bar” and a woodchuck bar, the familiar office smell of hot printer toner and burnt coffee, the “camp” decor, and the bonding over target practice at beer cans. 

Hecht’s details bring rural culture alive: Danville’s general store/post office serves as “a nexus of the ley lines of the community” where the local historians swap stories. Larger markets in towns like Montpelier display the hierarchical pyramid of photos, with the manager at the apex. A Vermont reader may nod in recognition, perhaps even chuckle a bit. Hecht’s observations are familiar but never stereotyped. 

A good mystery needs to have characters who the reader cares about, who develop over time. Hecht skillfully juggles the perspectives of two narrators: Conn, the swimmer, and his fiancee Celine. The shifting points of view reflect Conn’s background as an investigative journalist and Celine as a therapist as they grapple to solve the mystery. Besides the narrators, secondary characters also confront the complications of family ties, the many layers of personal motivations, concepts of justice and redemption, and never serve only to advance the plot. 

In this novel, as in life, there are no easy answers. Through his characters, Hecht explores the complications of love, concepts of justice, the many layers of motivation, betrayal and loss, healing and forgiveness. How well do you really know someone you love? Who can you trust? 

The mystery of the submerged object in the first scene drives the pace of the plot, accelerating in suspense toward the denouement. The final twist, though surprising, was completely in tune with the story. No easy answers here, no tricks (ever read a mystery that was solved by the appearance of the long-lost twin brother?) but satisfying. 

You can find “The Body Below” at local bookstores or online. Thanks to Dan Hecht’s opening scene, I’ll never swim in a dark Vermont lake without exploring what submerged object might rise up out of the depths. And do I want to swim faster, or dive down to discover what it is?

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