three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-So Cold the RiverMichael Koryta is best known for his crime fiction (until recently, he was a private investigator by profession), including Tonight I Said Goodbye (2004), the first of four Lincoln Perry books, and Envy the Night (2008), a Los Angeles Times Award winner. So Cold the River is the author’s first supernatural thriller. Two more novels, The Cypress House and The Ridge, will be published in 2011.

The Story: Before blowing his shot as a Hollywood filmmaker, Eric Shaw had his sights set on the big time. After an inauspicious fall from grace, he’s stuck directing memorial videos for grieving families. His work catches the attention of Alyssa Bradford, who encourages Shaw to make a documentary about Baden Springs, Indiana, the hometown of her aging, wealthy father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, and the source of Pluto Water, a decades-old elixir that stays ice cold despite the surrounding temperature. When Shaw dares to take a sip, the ensuing hallucinations help him to understand why the old man left town in the first place--and why sometimes it’s better not to go home again.
Little, Brown. 508 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780316053631

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"So Cold the River ... is almost twice as long as [Koryta’s] previous books (though it doesn’t feel that way in the slightest), is more firmly set in small-town Indiana not far from where the author grew up, and dives headlong into supernatural territory--so much so that after finishing the book I cast a suspicious eye on the water bottle on the nearby night-table, an unspoken admonition not to drink it sounding off loudly in my mind." Sarah Weinman

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite its full supply of either alarmed or alarming human characters, So Cold the River has only one real star: the wet one. Mr. Koryta gets his best effects from exploring Pluto Water’s occult properties and making readers wonder what odd tricks it will do next." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"So Cold the River takes a while to build up momentum, but the material is so fresh and the characters so appealing that my interest never flagged. After reading it, I’m sticking to good old D.C. tap water." Dennis Drabelle

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Michael Koryta, the author of first-rate Midwest-set mysteries, swigs from the fount of Stephen King with So Cold the River--much of the story takes place in a resort hotel á la The Shining--but the result is more creepy than truly terrifying." Thom Geier

Onion AV Club 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s a promising set up for a novel, and Koryta is able to get by on suggested menace and spooky setting for roughly half the book’s page length. But when he needs to start bringing the threads of his story together, Koryta proves unable to move beyond setting the mood and moving the plot forward." Todd VanDerWerff

Critical Summary

Up to now, Michael Koryta has quite successfully produced crime fiction. So a supernatural thriller might strike some as a bit off the beaten path (according to Koryta, the book was originally a novella that transformed itself into a longish novel, and he leaves room at the end for a reprise). So Cold the River is game in the attempt: critics make the inevitable comparisons to Stephen King (particularly The Shining, since much of Koryta’s novel takes place in a creepy Indiana resort hotel), which can only be good news for the author. Still, the book’s pacing is uneven, and Koryta "never makes the leap from curiosity to gripping page-turner" (Onion AV Club). But keep an eye on the author, whose two novels set for next year will continue to trace the arc of a promising young writer.