A man in a bowler hat, a haunting violin and a bottle of curious sulphuric tasting water. Did I mention water? Whatever you do, don’t drink the water. I repeat; don’t drink the water!
I’ve just re-read this classic book and can’t believe it has been seven years since I first read the book – my introduction to Michael Koryta – and it still ranks as one of my best ever reads.
So Cold The River by Michael Koryta is a hypnotic and hauntingly chilly tale following one man’s attempt to chronicle a family’s childhood history in West Baden, Indiana. It’s very hard to categorize into one genre as so many themes are utilized in this 528 huge page turner. Horror, thriller, Crime and supernatural forces are all present in a stunning story of murder, greed and deceit.
Eric Shaw, a has-been cinematographer formerly of Los Angeles and now Chicago, has resorted to making small videos for funerals at the bequest of grieving families. Shaw is approached by Alyssa Bradford at the end of her sister’s funeral and offers him a job to investigate/document her father in law’s (Campbell Bradford) family, long since forgotten.
The video is to be a celebration of his life, one she wants completed before he dies so that the family as a whole can enjoy with him. Shaw accepts not only the $20,000 offer but an ancient blue bottle of Pluto mineral water.
The bottle had never been opened and belongs to Campbell Bradford, the 95 year old multi-millionaire who lies dying in a lonely hospital room. Although hidden away, and until this point had never left Bradford’s side, Alyssa Bradford sensed its importance. The blue bottle sparks a chain of events that would lead to a destructive and devastating conclusion.
Shaw, estranged from his wife Claire, makes his way to the adjoined Midwest towns of West Baden and French Lick armed with a camera and the curious, foul tasting bottle of Pluto Water. Shortly before he embarked on the drive to Indiana Eric gave in to the temptation and opened the bottle and took a sip of the mysterious water. He became violently ill and the die had been cast.
Despite being a monster of a book, the pace is rather interesting. It isn’t a quick read for obvious reasons but I found that as the story developed so did the pace, hand in hand with the water’s stranglehold and intensity. I’m not sure if Koryta meant this to happen but this is how I saw the book evolving. Very clever and the flow is just right, I finished the book in three reasonable sessions.
We meet a number of colourful characters along the way and Josiah Bradford, the only living descendant of the millionaire in Indiana is one of them. An evil brute of a man, he appears to have a chip on his shoulder, a chip that grows rapidly after coming into physical contact with Eric. Koryta tells his story well and whenever Josiah is centre stage it’s as if the book takes on a whole new dark persona.
A story of Yin and Yang, light and shade, good and evil – the book is an engaging, icy page turner in every sense. This is Koryta’s first book to be published in the UK and certainly won’t be his last, not on this form I suspect.
Don’t drink the water! You have been warned!