SO COLD THE RIVER

I bought this book by Michael Koryta because of the front cover quote from one of my all time favourite authors – Dennis Lehane – who pronounced: “An icy, terrifying winner. Few novelists warrant mention alongside Stephen King or Peter Straub, Michael Koryta, however, earns comparison to both.” I have been badly misled by such marketing quotes before, but even though I bought the book without reading the back cover, had I done so that would have only increased my desire to buy. Why? It quotes another of my favourite authors – Michael Connelly – saying “The book builds like a summer storm. Beautiful to watch until it shakes the house and knocks out the lights… Masterful.” So, now that I have read the book, it’s time to report: good, bad, or indifferent?

One time rising star film-maker Eric Shaw makes a living from vanity documentary films about dead people. The deceased may have gone, but their friends and family can remember them and celebrate their life with a film from Eric. He accepts a commission to make a documentary about the (still living) millionaire Campbell Bradford. From his meeting with Bradford, he becomes involved in the mystery of the man’s early life, and the secret of the old bottle of water he has kept. Bradford dies. Shaw then travels to Bradford’s hometown and gets sucked into strange happenings and an evil awakening.

This is a modern horror story which does chill, and just about delivers a high quality reading experience. The pacing is good, and the characters are mostly interesting. I found Kellen Cage (Shaw’s sidekick) to be the one main character that least involved me; it was almost as if this individual was brought in to offer potential plot lines that were not followed up, or edited out to keep the length of the book down. However, Eric Shaw, his wife and the main protagonist are well put together and interesting.

The story is told well, and the final explanation that puts all the pieces together, is believable and comprehensive; you cannot ask for more than that. Except that this was, I thought, a horror story, and it wasn’t very frightening. (For example, Stephen King’s “It”; now that was frightening!) This book was atmospheric and interesting, but didn’t pull me in enough – or at least as much as I might have expected from the marketing promise. In short, it did not deliver for me what Lehane and Connelly promised. Your experience may differ.

I enjoyed this book, and will probably read more by the same author as he develops his career. But, for now, he is one of the pack, rather than a leader.

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