Fresh Blood

Name: Michael Koryta

Title of Book: So Cold the River

'West Baden Springs Hotel could have been sprung from the imagination of the great Stephen King himself. '

Eric Shaw has always had a ‘feeling’ about certain things. Having had such a promising career in film, Shaw fell from grace and now cuts films to play at people’s funerals. On this particular day, celebrating a mother and wife who’s life had been cut short in a car accident, Eric knew that a photo sent amongst many others was particularly special to the dead woman. Only the woman’s sister knew the significance of this photo. Feeling that Eric has a ‘sixth sense’, she commissions Eric to look in to the life of her dying father-in-law, the multi- millionaire, Campbell Bradford. The only clues he has is the man’s name and a bottle of mineral water from Bradford’s place of birth: West Baden.

Arriving at West Baden, Eric feels that things are stirring – and very fast. The bottle of mineral water beads with sweat and is always freezing cold, despite being at room temperature. And when he succumbs to drinking the water he begins to have visions – dark visions of a violent man called Campbell Bradford, a man who cannot be 95 years old and dying in a hospital. No, this man would be far older by now. As the visions open up a history many thought long dead, the past starts to encroach on the present. And with these sightings many feel that a storm is coming to West Baden – a storm that will wreak havoc.

Soon, with the few people who believe that there is something more than a bottle of water to this whole mystery, Shaw must fight enemies not only from the past, but from the present to save everyone from being caught in the eye of the storm...

This is the first book published in the UK written by this well-know American author. Koryta entwines a murder mystery with the supernatural and brings us a marvellous gripping novel that will definitely have the hairs standing upright on the back of your neck. Cleverly, Koryta brings Eric Shaw’s nemesis via a simple bottle of mineral water - albeit contaminated – but not with chemicals, something far worse! Water plays a large part in this novel, as does the element water, which features in many mysterious and menacing ways.

As the book reaches its climax you can feel the dusty hot air swirling around, the clouds hanging down heavy and the rain splattering the window panes. Koryta obviously has a ‘thing’ for the weather and this is deftly told through the written word. I must say also that Koryta clearly has a passion for the horror genre by giving definite nods to that fantastic novel, The Shining. The West Baden Springs Hotel could have been sprung from the imagination of the great Stephen King himself.

This was a gripping novel that caught my attention from the very first pages and held me until the very bloody end. The supernatural strand did not detract from the main story, but if anything enhanced it. An excellent start and I look forward to reading more of this authors work.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I really don’t think about it consciously so much. I suppose I would say that I consider myself a suspense novelist at this point, having delved into various subgenres, but my initial reaction is always just to say “crime writer,” and I think that is still more true than false. Whether they be detective stories or supernatural stories, they always involve strong elements of the crime fiction genre.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I read as widely as possible. About 100 books a year, and maybe 60% of that will be fiction, and half of the fiction will be of the crime or horror genres. I have my deep and abiding loves of some crime series but I’ve discovered of late that I’m more drawn toward standalones.
3) 'So Cold the River’ is what has recently been known as the ‘chiller thriller’. How do you feel about the recent vogue of the supernatural and crime overlapping?
It’s interesting to me to know that it is a recent vogue, because I can’t think of too many writers doing it...John Connolly, of course, but is it a large trend? You make me curious about who else I need to be reading! I think a good horror novel will often overlap with elements of a good crime novel. If there’s not some unravelling of the past, not some presence of ominous secrets, then it doesn’t really qualify as the sort of Gothic supernatural tale that I most love. And those qualities can, of course, be seen in countless crime novels. I suppose in answer to your question above I should say I consider my body of work to be that of a Gothic storyteller in many ways; even my detective novels have been influenced by that idea. The weight of the past is something that’s always fascinated me as a writer, and I’ve just turned to address it more directly through the ghost story of late. Not to catch any trend, but because those were the stories that were shouting at me to be written. You’ve got to write the ones you love. The overlapping of the crime novel and the supernatural tale seems quite natural to me.
4) From the very beginning of the novel you launch in to the supernatural feel and then build up the tension. Do you feel it important to this from the start?
Yes, with So Cold the River that was certainly the idea. I wanted the book to feel very different from my previous work, and to establish that immediately. It was very different, in that it involved ghosts and ancient evils and psychic visions, etc. I also wanted to make the novel as atmospheric as I could, to really saturate the reader with a sense of the surreal qualities of that place, which is, by the way, a real location and depicted as accurately as I possibly could. That will surprise many readers, I’m sure, but the whole concept of this story sprang from the bizarre qualities of the setting itself. It’s a product of the place and of the history. In this way, I felt the influence of a lot of the great British ghost stories, because think they’re often the high-water mark for spooky atmosphere.
5) Eric Shaw has had ‘feelings’ about different things until he begins to actually have ‘sightings’ when at West Baden. What did it mean to you to have a character uncertain of what he was seeing and not someone who knew and controlled their ‘ability’?
Well, I always want to see a character change over the course of his journey. If Eric had full understanding of his gift, what it meant, and how to use it, then he’s not really going through the same arc. It’s a story about talent and ambition and the dangers that lurk within those qualities, and so it worked well for me thematically. This is a guy who has talents of various levels and has fallen in love with them and with himself, to the detriment of those around him and to his life. He’s been a selfish man, a narcissist and he’s paying the price. His collision with West Baden Springs, a supernaturally charged place, and his struggle to understand his gifts and how to use them makes him a man under attack from every direction – externally, internally, from forces in this world, from forces in another world. I find characters in conflict to be compelling, and it’s hard to say that Eric isn’t facing a great deal of conflict!
6) Do you believe in ghosts? Do you think it necessary to believe in them to bring something realistic to your novels and do you find inspiration reading about true ghost stories?
Great question. Do I believe in the sort of ghosts I write about in So Cold the River, the Campbell Bradford version of malevolence? No. Do I believe in some concept of the supernatural? Maybe. A sense that the past weighs on the present in unique and special ways. It’s in that prickle that crawls along your spine when you’re on ancient ground, whether it be an old house or ground that was once a battlefield, the sense of past lives and trapped energy. It’s from that concept that I derive the idea of eerie atmosphere I try to recreate in my fiction. Is it superstition, silly fear, or something else? I don’t know. But the sensation, the physical and mental response, is very real, and I’m fascinated by that. I don’t think any sort of belief in the supernatural is a requirement to write it well, by any means, and I don’t do much reading of true ghost stories.
7) Does the idea of the bottled ‘Pluto’ water have any basis in fact?
Absolutely based in fact. The mineral springs, the Pluto water, its devil’s logo, the bottles, and the white boxcars with the crimson figure of the devil are all 100% accurate. The reputed healing powers of the mineral springs are what allowed the area to flourish and what drew people like Al Capone, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and so many others. These real places and real stories were the elements that drew me to the novel. The Lost River, Wesley Chapel Gulf, and the hotels are all real locations. I’ve spent a great deal of time in them all. It’s a fascinating area. I now have a never-opened bottle of Pluto Water on my desk, a gift from the owner of the hotels. That means a great deal to me. And spooks me from time to time...
8) Many authors draw on their personal experiences to give depth and insight into the characters and their feelings hopes and desires. Is this something you have conscientiously done or avoided doing, preferring rather to use your imagination?
Well, I think you have to be able to do both. If you can’t imbue a character with some sense of your experiences and failures and struggles, you’re wasting opportunities. All of that should be grist for the mill. But I’m not a very fascinating person, and my story would put the audience to sleep swiftly. In So Cold the River, it was taking a simple question about artistic ambitions and the blend of fear, confidence, and obsession that can surround them and building that into something larger and something beyond the artist’s realm, into the more universal concept of the dangers of ambition. That issue can be seen in virtually every character in the novel. So I can call upon a mild layer of that experience from my own life, but then I need to begin imagining it in larger terms, different terms. You use both. You use everything you’ve got – your own experience, the experience of others, and totally fictionalized experience.
9) Who would be your dream cast of movie actors for an adaptation of your story?
Wow, I really don’t know. I am actually working on an adaptation of So Cold the River with a guy named Scott Silver, who wrote 8 Mile, which I think is an exceptional film, so I have hopes of seeing it on the screen at some point, but I haven’t thought of actors. I like Guy Pearce or John Cusack for Eric, I suppose. Really, I’d never pretend to understand proper casting. There’s a reason they don’t leave that up to the novelists.
10) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
I love this question! Favorite plot twist. I’ve never considered that specific issue, which makes this fun. Rankin is full of great twists. Connelly as well. My favourite would have to be in Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” though. There’s also a moment in Stephen Hunter’s “The Day Before Midnight,” that I absolutely love. This character has fought a long journey to reach a missile silo that’s been taken over by terrorists, and you feel like, “Okay, the battle’s won, but there are too many pages left, so obviously something has to stop him.” The technique Hunter uses to stop him, though, is great, one of those moments that made me smile, because it was there all along but I didn’t see it coming.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
L.A. Confidential, maybe. That’s a very hard story to adapt and they did a hell of a job with it.
12) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
If you write in this genre you should be a fan of it! I admire so many writers that I’m almost reluctant to start with the names because I’ll leave so many out. I really admire the grinders, the writers who have put out book after book without mailing any of them in, the writers who continue to work relentlessly at improving their craft. Michael Connelly is probably the best example of that, and George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard. James Lee Burke. Writers who keep their heads down and keep producing quality work inspire me to no end. Stephen King, of course.
13) What is your favourite read crime of all time?
Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. Such a stunningly good novel.