Thursday, August 19, 2010

So Cold the River - Michael Koryta


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

21 comments:

Melody said...

I knew what you mean about those hardcovers! I rarely buy them unless they're from my favourite authors and that I've read nothing but rave reviews about them, otherwise I'll borrow them from the library. Anyway, I bought this book after reading a few reviews and plus I thought the plot was intriguing! Anyway I'm glad you enjoyed it!

So how many stars would you rate this book? ;)

Julie P. said...

I thought this book was extremely good and definitely not one that I'd normally pick up! I agree with you that the setting was almost another character and I loved seeing your photos.

bermudaonion said...

I loved this book and am so jealous you got to go to French Lick! I really want to go there and see that dome myself.

Zibilee said...

It's so cool that your reading life and your real life intersected in this way! I had heard a little about this book, and a few things interested me about it, including the paranormal aspects. I bet if I were to read this, I'd love it, despite the fact that I've never made it to French Lick! I am glad you loved the book! Great review, Sandy!

S. Krishna said...

Ooh, glad you enjoyed this one so much! I have it to review on audio.

Dyan Duncan said...

Hello Sandy,

Thank you for the nice receommendation of not only "So Cold the River" but the French Lick Resort as well.

I wish you lived closer; I would invite you to an author's dinner we are doing August 28 with Michael Koryta.

Thanks again!

Marianne said...

Well, I'm convinced, want to read the book and visit the resort!

Serena said...

I have to get back to this audio!

Darlene said...

Great review. It's always fun to read a book about somewhere you've been - it just adds so much more to it. I'm glad you liked this one so much. It does sound like a good thriller.

Hardcovers - I know what you mean. I only buy them for one author - John Saul and that's about it. I have collected all of his books and like having the hardcovers. Otherwise unless it's something I just have to have I won't spend the money either.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

One definitely needs to take a Kierkegaardian leap of faith when one reads these books with paranormal elements, in order to enjoy them.

I love books too that are set in places I've been. It's so fun!

The Bumbles said...

So what was your rating? 4 of 5? 5 of 5? I'm guessing 4 of 5 since the main character whined. It is such fun to "know" one of a book's characters already - like this amazing resort.

Jenners said...

Isn't it such a thrill to read about a book set in a place you know intimately? How cool ... and I have to give myself permission to enjoy certain types of books sometimes too.

Nymeth said...

The Gothic feel in particular makes it sound very appealing!

Care said...

I want to read this! I stupidly failed to download the audio from one of the freebie cards at BEA and now I can't get it. I'll have to buy the print version. It sounds fascinating. How fun for you that you had the visuals of setting in mind since you'd been there! I love reading books set in places I know and especially am happy when the author gets it right.

Anna said...

It must make the story better to have actually been there!

caite said...

sorry, but "French Lick"...all I can do is think of jokes.

although I am always up for a good mystery/thriller.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this, but I sort of wish you hadn't bought the hardcover, but instead listened to the audio, which was fabulous. Eric didn't come across as nearly as whiny in the audio, either.

Kathleen said...

That is so cool that you got to go to the place and then read the book!

Alice Teh said...

Your opening paragraph is enough to make ME want to run out there and get a copy of this book. This is an awesome review.

Matt said...

The best thing for a reader is when reading and life crosses path! Hardcovers are big no to me because they cost more. I can't help thinking I can get two new paperbacks for the price of one hardcover. I save hardcovers for the very special authors. Now the best part is I actually spotted this book on the shelf at a cafe while I'm here (in Hawaii). I'll see if I can read it all in one sitting before I head home!

Melissa M said...

I rarely buy hardcovers either, but every once in a while I break down...I'm not sure this one is for me. Sounds interesting, but I have to be in the right mood for the dark gothic book. Still, I'm going to add it to my 'someday' list!