Thursday, August 19, 2010
When I discovered that "So Cold the River" was a mystery/thriller that took place at the West Baden Resort in French Lick, Indiana, I cast all caution and reading commitments to the wind, ran out and bought the hard cover book. This NEVER happens in my life. OK, I had a coupon, but unless a book is given to me gratis for a review, hard covers are saved for library rentals. Why was I worked into a lather? Because I visited this resort last fall, and it blew. my. mind. I even published a post about it, I was so utterly breathless over this resort that absolutely DID NOT BELONG in a small, southern Indiana town. It was like finding the crown jewels in a (charming yet modest) pile of chicken feed.
Eric Shaw, a down-and-out film maker living in Chicago, is approached by a beautiful young woman to make a documentary of her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford's, life. Because Campbell is approaching death and unable to communicate, Eric has very little to go on, except that the old man spent his childhood in French Lick, Indiana. The young woman also hands him an old bottle of mineral water taken from that town's springs, and has been in Campbell's possession for his entire adult life.
So Eric head's down to French Lick to stay at one of it's two famous hotels, the West Baden Springs Resort. The hotel, with its restored dome and rich history, immediately entrances Eric. Since I'd been there, I knew exactly how he felt.
Entrance to West Baden Resort, which is described in detail in this book.
The infamous dome. You can see the balconies that overlook the enclosed area, similar to the one where Eric stayed.
But soon Eric is distracted from the hotel's beauty and observes another side to the area, and begins to have visions of a buried evil that threatens to resurface and destroy everyone in its path. And that old bottle of water...why is the surface of the bottle always so cold? Strangely, this water seems to have more going on than just the purported healing qualities.
You know when they say that the location of a novel (or movie) can act as another character? This is one of those times, whether you have visited the resort or not. Koryta grew up near French Lick, and felt his writer's muse stir when a local businessman renovated both historic hotels to their original grandeur. His description of the grounds and the hotel, and its history, is complete, and you will feel like you have heard your own footsteps echo under the giant dome.
Some of the characters I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly the elderly but spirited Anne McKinney, the town historian and weather-watcher, who goes to the resort's bar for her daily tipple. I also liked Kellen Cage, a lively African-American student at Indiana University who was writing his thesis on the history of blacks in the area, and attempts to assist Eric in unearthing information about Campbell Bradford. On the other hand, Josiah Bradford, a descendant of Campbell, was a little bit of a parody of an angry southern boy. And our protagonist, Eric Shaw, seemed to be overly obsessed with his failures in life, even a tad whiny.
The story delves into the paranormal, which is something I was not expecting. At times, it seemed slightly outlandish, and I had to let go of all the practical little voices inside my head. Once I gave myself permission to go with it, it sucked me in. Ghosts, murders, secrets, and vengeful demons abound, and while I couldn't take it too seriously, the whole gothic feel to the whole story, interspersed with real history, was incredibly riveting.
Overall, I am thrilled to have read it. And now I want to go back...
4 out of 5 stars