Koryta_SoColdtheRiverWell, I completely flunked on this month’s theme. I did read a Phyllis A Whitney from long ago, but it was a re-read, so I can’t count it as part of my TBR elimination. Instead, I went for the boook I think has been hanging around my TBR longest. I had Koryta’s book in print, which means I picked it up at a conference or award ceremony or event of some kind because I really wanted it. And yet, it remained unread.

So Cold The River is creepy, mysterious, and fun. It walks the line between horror and thriller, not quite one or the other. I guess its a paranormal thriller. I almost want to call it Gothic, but I cannot quite because the villain of the piece is too clear, too vividly pictured, and I tend to think of Gothic as hinted at without being seen. The plot is an unusual one:

It started with a beautiful woman and a challenge. As a gift for her husband, Alyssa Bradford approaches Eric Shaw to make a documentary about her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, a 95-year-old billionaire whose past is wrapped in mystery. Eric grabs the job even though there are few clues to the man’s past–just the name of his hometown and an antique water bottle he’s kept his entire life.

In Bradford’s hometown, Eric discovers an extraordinary history–a glorious domed hotel where movie stars, presidents, athletes, and mobsters once mingled, and hot springs whose miraculous mineral water cured everything from insomnia to malaria. Neglected for years, the resort has been restored to its former grandeur just in time for Eric’s stay.

Just hours after his arrival, Eric experiences a frighteningly vivid vision. As the days pass, the frequency and intensity of his hallucinations increase and draw Eric deeper into the town’s dark history. He discovers that something besides the hotel has been restored–a long-forgotten evil that will stop at nothing to regain its lost glory.

Eric is not an entirely likeable character, and if there’s one flaw in the book it’s that I never felt particularly sympathetic toward his situation. A former Hollywood filmmaker, he lost his reputation because of what seems to me—and it may only be to me because of my own personality—to be an immature tantrum. And then his marriage imploded (also his fault), so this job, the Campbell Bradford job, is what he has left in his life.

The book ends hopefully (as most of you who know me know I require in order to fully enjoy a book), but I never feel as if Eric takes control of his life, as if he deserves to “win.” In fact, the main “good guys” are far less interesting than the main “bad guys.”

On the other hand, the writing is beautiful, the villain(s) well-developed, and the tension and mystery held masterfully. It’s definitely worth a read.