“So Cold the River” by Michael Koryta (Little, Brown, 2010)

So Cold the Riverstarstarstar

From the author of Envy the Night, comes an original thriller with elements of the fantastic and supernatural set in a small American town where everything is not as it seems.

Eric Shaw is a documentary film maker who was starting to make it big – on set he would have the uncanny ability as director of photography to know what things we really like, as if through fantastic means – and then this determination for accuracy causes him to lose his cool and his growing career is instantaneously ended.  Now he spends his days making short films on people’s lives for funerals, where his strange ability allows him to see what a person was truly like.  He attends the viewings at each of the funerals, and at one is commissioned to create a documentary of her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, who is 95 and a millionaire.

Shaw starts with an interview with the aging Bradford in the hospital, who seems practically comatose, but once he gets behind the lens he sees a different man, with an evil look and seemingly clear minded, but upon taking his eye of the lens, Bradford is just an unmoving form in the bed.  This is just the first mystery, as Shaw travels to Bradford’s hometown.  Bradford began his career in bottling a particular type of spring water that was purported to possess certain healing properties.  Shaw tried a sip of the hundred-year-old water and promptly threw up; but once he checks into his hotel, he notices the bottle becoming colder and colder, as frost begins to form on the outside.  Suffering a migraine, he tries the drink again, hoping for some healing; this time the water is icy and sweet, his headache going away immediately.  As Shaw investigates the man, he finds a sordid past that the town is doing everything it can to cover up; meanwhile his headaches continue to return and become worse, as he drinks more of the spring water.  He begins to have visions and flashes of past events which all have a bearing on the mystery that Campbell Bradford.  Shaw finds himself needing a way, a resolution, before he loses his mind completely.

Koryta turns a normal seeming town into a place with a sinister past, employing the mystical and fantastic to reveal the unusual story; while So Cold the River takes a while to get going, the story grows and becomes more compelling and complex, with an action-filled conclusion.

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Originally written on September 16 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.