So Cold the River by Michael Koryta. Little, Brown, 2010.
So Cold the River is the story of Eric Shaw, a man who has gone from shooting Hollywood movies to creating video memorials for weddings and funerals, and the decades old mystery in which he becomes entangled. The story begins in Chicago where Eric is hired by Alyssa Bradford to do a documentary of her father-in-law Campbell Bradford’s life and uncover the mystery of his childhood. Bradford grew up in West Baden Springs, Indiana, and when Eric goes to the town to trace Bradford’s childhood, things start to get really weird. Eric starts having visions that lead to questions about Campbell Bradford’s origins. The reader accompanies him on a hair-raising, spine-tingling quest to find the truth.
I was drawn to this book because it is set in Indiana, my home state. I’ve also been to the West Baden Springs/French Lick area several times. When I first started reading So Cold the River though, the familiarity of the locale was a little unsettling. I could picture the route Eric took down to southern Indiana and the places in West Baden Springs and French Lick. The detail Koryta provides is remarkable. It felt somehow odd to be reading about a place so close to home, but I quickly overcame this unease and settled into a wonderful story.
Koryta populates his West Baden Springs world with believable and likable characters with which Eric can ally himself. Though most people would think Eric insane for talking about visions, these allies come to believe him, which helps the reader believe as well. I found myself rooting for Eric and his friends, hoping they would find the truth behind Campbell Bradford. The visions of the past and the events of the present combine seamlessly to give insight into both. Koryta leads Eric and the reader on a wild ride that is both ghost story and mystery. The novel culminates in an edge of your seat confrontation between past and present that resolves in a most satisfying way.
I highly recommend So Cold the River to any reader that enjoys a bit of history with their mystery or supernatural story. Michael Koryta is scheduled to appear at Big Hat Books & Arts on Wednesday, February 23, at 6pm. If you are in the Indianapolis area, take the opportunity to meet this local son. I’m looking forward to reading Koryta’s next novel, The Cypress House, even though it isn’t set in Indiana.
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So Cold the River
The Cypress House