Science fiction and fantasy                                            

So Cold The River

by Michael Koryta


So Cold The River is a story with supernatural leanings, but it's more of a thriller than a haunting. Michael Koryta's earlier novels have made him better known as a writer of mysteries and crime novels, and in this tale he is only dipping his toes into the paranormal.

Eric Shaw is a filmmaker going through a bad patch. Reduced to making memorial films for funerals, he's stung by the prospect of a bitter divorce and by his failure to make a name for himself in Hollywood. He's talented, and sometimes he has an intuition about scenes that suggests a psychic gift. But he's not very good at keeping his temper in check, and that can be his downfall.

Alyssa Bradford hires Eric to make a film about her father-in-law, the dying billionaire Campbell Bradford. He's carried an old bottle of mineral water around with him his whole life, and Alyssa wants to know more about it, and the mystery of Campbell's life. So Eric goes to the small town of West Baden to attempt to piece together the man's history.

But when Eric arrives the bottle of spring water displays strange properties, and Eric begins to see things. He gets headaches. It's as though he's imagining the past, even though the scenes don't always seem content to remain in his imagination. There's something about the water, known as Pluto water, that's very wrong indeed. But how can Eric explain his fears without coming across as a nutcase and eroding his reputation even further?

This novel builds slowly yet relentlessly, cranking up the suspense until it's taut as a bowstring. The rural Indiana setting has a suitably eerie touch, although it's not so far out of the ordinary that it requires readers to make much effort to suspend disbelief. Essentially this is a ghost story for thriller fans, far more in the modern world than not.

The characters really make this story compelling. There's old Anne McKinney the storm spotter, the aggressive and frustrated Josiah Bradford, his long-suffering friend Danny, and the calm young academic Kellen. They're both realistic and richly individual.

Believable characters, an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue make So Cold The River extremely readable. I would even go so far as to say Michael Koryta is a master storyteller. However the story in question is a lot like a Delia Smith recipe: down to earth and accessible, but also very safe. In places it's so straightforward that it's easy to guess how a character will end up soon after he or she is introduced. I don't think this novel will satisfy the most adventurous horror fans. Anyone who wants to be served up the literary equivalent of a Heston Blumenthal dish will have to look elsewhere. Nevertheless this is a thoroughly well-written, tightly plotted novel that will set many readers' pulses racing.

6th September 2010

Book Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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