Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews So Cold the River (Little, Brown and Company, $24.99) by Michael Koryta.
Released in June, the novel has quietly generated excitement within the industry and garnered a slew of glowing reviews, deservedly so.
The book’s protagonist, Eric Shaw, is a failed Hollywood filmmaker whose volatile temper has a habit of getting him into trouble. Embittered by both his sordid past and his crumbling marriage, Eric finds himself making home movies for a fraction of the pay (and virtually none of the notoriety). It is during the exhibition of one of these films that he is commissioned to travel to the sleepy town of West Baden, Indiana, to shoot a visual biography of dying millionaire Campbell Bradford. Eric acquiesces and is soon on his way to the resort town, accompanied only by his trusty camera and a bottle of the Pluto water (which had been said to “cure all ills”) that put West Baden on the map many years ago.
A town struggling to regain its former prestige, West Baden is also very much a character in the story—one that possesses the type of ambiance that jumps off of the page and into the mind. When Eric arrives, it is only to discover that there was once another Campbell Bradford in the area, one who terrorized the community and spilled innocent blood in the streets. (He is survived by a great-grandson, Josiah, who is fiercely protective of his family’s history—and who makes a formidable foe.) That Campbell is resurrected in a series of terrifying visions (or hallucinations, some might say) that plague Eric and threaten to unleash a long-dormant evil upon the town. The strange mineral water proves both his savior and his curse, serving as a portal to the past and an elixir in the present.
While this unique premise proves more than enough to elevate the narrative to a level greater than many contemporaries, the well-crafted characterization and relationship dynamics will also sustain readers. For all his faults, Eric is a very likable character, and he surrounds himself with equally appealing individuals. His unexpected sidekick, Kellen, brings humor and levity, while his soon-to-be ex-wife, Claire, provides emotional centeredness. But the true scene-stealer is eighty-six-year-old local Anne McKinney, a devoted weather watcher who has been waiting for the big storm all her life. And oh what a storm she gets…
As Eric forges forth in his harrowing journey, he reaches both personal and professional crossroads. The book’s climax is one that pits past against present, and good against evil, in an epic battle that showcases the true forces of nature. The metaphor may be obvious, but the story doesn’t suffer because of it. Rather, it serves as a reminder that sometimes things (or people) need to be shaken to their very core before they can settle back down.
So Cold the River is a triumph–one that combines the supernatural elements of Stephen King with the romantic intrigue of Nicholas Sparks and the literary luminescence of Joyce Carol Oates. Koryta possesses the ability to write with an urgency that still manages to come across as subtle, which has the effect of leaving readers in a near hypnotic state. Once you venture past the cover, you just may find yourself wondering whether you, too, drank the water, as you will be rendered unable to resist the call of the pages found within…
With thanks to Miriam Parker of Little, Brown and Company for providing HFE with a review copy of So Cold the River.