Review: So Cold the River by Michael Kortya

June 29, 2010 Historical Fiction, Little, Brown & Company, Mystery/Suspense, Review, Thriller 17


  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (June 9, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0316053635
  • Source: Received at BEA
  • Eric Shaw is a failed filmmaker who, rather than making the films in LA as he’d hoped and dreamed, is now making a living making family videos for the families of those who have passed. When he is approached by Alyssa Bradford, a wealthy young woman and promised a substantial amount of money to travel to French Lick, IN to research her father-in-law’s history, Shaw cannot refuse.  She describes her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, as an extraordinary man who was extremely financially successful in his youth, despite the Depression.

    Alyssa presents Shaw with a small bottle of water, the only evidence she has of her father-in-law’s past.  The bottle is full of Pluto Water, spring water from the famous mineral springs that flow around the West Baden Springs Resort. Eighty years ago, the water contained in that bottle was considered a cure-all for all life’s ailments. That water alone brought people from all over to the West Baden Hotel and surrounding area.

    The moment he arrives Shaw realizes something is amiss.  When he mentions the name Campbell Bradford, the residents of French Lick insist the man is long dead.  How is this possible, when Shaw himself met the man just days before his departure? He’s also described as a horrible man, who ran away from the town, leaving a wife and child behind. “People were terrified of the man…thought he was evil.” 

    When Shaw meets Kellen, a young college student researching the African-American history in the area, he learns of the murder of Shadrach Hunter, a black casino owner who was murdered shortly before Campbell’s disappearance.  Campbell was believed to be the killer.  Kellen agrees to help Shaw in his hunt for the “true” Campbell Bradford.

    Shaw, largely out of curiosity, takes a drink of the eighty year old spring water presented to him by Alyssa Bradford.  He is instantly sickened by it’s foul taste. After drinking the water, he begins to have visions, ominous and haunting snapshots of Campbell Bradford. He also begins to succumb to horrible headaches, the only way to alleviate them is to drink more of the ancient spring water, which now tastes sweet.

    Anne, an elderly woman who has lived her entire life in that area, is key to Shaw’s “investigation.”  Anne has quite the collection of Pluto Water and is able to provide Shaw with a bit of history that no one else can.  Another vital part of the story: Anne’s an expert on weather and storms; she keeps a daily record of barometric activity in the area. She begins to notice a significant change in the weather since Shaw’s arrival;  perhaps “the” storm she’s been predicting will finally make an appearance.  Anne has always been aware of something “different” in the area:

    “I’ve always connected it more to the weather myself…there’s something different in this valley…You can feel it in the wind now and again, and on the edge of a summer storm, or maybe just before ice comes down in the wintertime.  There’s something different.  And charge is the best word for it.  There’s a charge, all right.”

    Shaw & Kellen soon realize that evil has returned to West Baden, evil buried decades ago. Rather than leave, Shaw feels he must get to the cause of this evil and find out more about the illusive Campbell Bradford.

    Let me just start out with this: Koryta’s writting is stunning!  The pacing of this thrilling chiller is perfect, it starts out slow, slowly building with momentum, until it explodes at the end.  I can’t help but compare this to the storm that builds and builds and then unleashes it’s wrath throughout the book.  This storm is like a character itself…it slowly builds and progresses along with the storyline.  The way Koryta describes it makes it appear humanlike:

    The mass above it was black and purple but the funnel cloud was stark white. It eased to the ground almost peacefully, as if settling down for a rest, and then its color began to change, the wite turning gray as it blew through the fields and gathered dirt, sucking soil and debris into its vortex.”

    The other characters, particularly Shaw himself, are very well laid out and organized.  As the book progresses, we learn more about Shaw, his life, his history. Anne’s character is an important one; she ties the present to the past.

    One of the things that really interested me in this book was the setting.  I was lucky enough to visit the West Baden Springs Hotel while it was undergoing renovation. To state it is breathtaking would be an understatement.  Here are just a few pictures:

    The exterior of the hotel. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to walk along the dome. Despite my fear of heights, I stepped outside, knowing I’d never have the opportunity again.

    Inside the atrium…the tilework, the detail, simply magnificent!

    All in all, I highly recommend this unique, chilling thriller!  Check back later today for a giveaway: a autographed ARC of the book!

    17 Responses to “Review: So Cold the River by Michael Kortya”

    1. Mary

      You and Kathy (Bermudaonion) have convinced me to put this on my tbr list. Nice review.

    2. Aarti
      Twitter: aartichapati

      Wow, what a gorgeous hotel! I love when I recognize the settings of books I read.

      • Jenn
        Twitter: jennbookshelves

        The pictures don’t do it justice. It’s simply stunning…a gigantic masterpiece quite literally in the middle of nowhere!

    3. Serena
      Twitter: SavvyVerseWit

      This is sitting on my ipod…ok, why haven’t I started reading it yet? Hmmm, I better make it a priority…especially after your high recommendation!

    4. Lisa

      I’m not a big reader of thrillers but this one does kind of grab me and you’re review definitely makes me want to give it a try.

    5. Kay

      I have not been able to stop thinking about this book. It will definitely go on my top 10 of 2010. Such an absorbing story. I want to visit that hotel now. 🙂

    6. Beth F
      Twitter: BethFishReads

      I can’t wait to start listening to this. I haven’t seen the trailer before — makes me want to read it even more.

    7. Aths
      Twitter: rainydayreading

      This book sure sounds amazing! I have been looking for reviews of this book, and am eager to read it now.