Title: So Cold The River
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 503 pages
Publication Date: 02/09/2010
The first of Michael Koryta’s novels to be published in Britain, So Cold The River is a supernatural thriller very much in the mould of two of the doyens of the genre, Peter Straub and Stephen King.
Washed-up documentary director Eric Shaw can’t resist the challenge [and the money] when beautiful Alyssa Bradford asks him to research and produce a short-film on the mysterious early life of her father-in-law, ailing millionaire Campbell Bradford. Nothing strange about that you might say. But when she gives Eric an artefact from Campbell Bradford’s past – a preternaturally cold bottle of Pluto Water – you know nothing good will come of it [there’s even a devil etched into the bottom of the bottle just in case its temperature problems weren’t enough of an indication that it’s bad news].
And that constant sense of unease refuses to go away, as strange occurrences continue to happen that Shaw can’t quite explain rationally. Like Campbell only speaking when Eric is looking at him through a camera lens. Eric decides it must be a practical joke, until he finds out that Bradford hasn’t spoken in days. Or the gothic, domed hotel that dominates the spa town of French Lick and West Baden, where Campbell grew up and where Eric hears a violinist that no one else does. And when Eric jokingly refers to the hotel in relation to the Overlook Hotel from King’s The Shining, the reader begins to suspect the relationship isn’t as far off as Eric believes.
So after Eric starts imbibing the Pluto Water, it’s not really that much of a surprise when he starts to hallucinate and his camera once more seems unable to capture all that he appears to be seeing in the reclusive town. And why can’t he seem to find out anything about Campbell Bradford and his past? And what’s really lurking in the water? Answers seem to be in short supply, but you know that the natural inquisitiveness that once made Eric such a good documentary maker won’t let him stop until he uncovers the truth.
So Cold The River is a hybrid of mystery novel, horror and thriller, which on the face of it sounds like a rather strange mixture but it does work really well. Not normally one for supernatural elements, I found myself more than pleasantly surprised and drawn in through Koryta’s elegant prose, ability to create a taut and tense atmosphere and the diverse and well realised group of characters that inhabit the Indiana spa town.