Michael Koryta’s latest novel, So Cold the River, is nothing like the novels that he’s written to this point. While it still has well-drawn characters and impeccably-described settings, this one starts out with a quiet puzzle rather than a lit fuse. That puzzle is presented to a man named Eric Shaw, who has the ability to sense truth through photographs and video. The failed former cinematographer is hired to go to West Baden, Indiana to do a video portrait of the mysterious early life of a 95-year-old rich man who is dying. The project is financed by Bradford’s daughter-in-law against the old man’s wishes. Bradford started out as a purveyor of Pluto water which is drawn from the springs found at West Baden.
Weird stuff begins to happen as soon as Shaw is hired. The blue bottle of Pluto water the daughter-in-law gives him is strangely cold, even in the ninety-degree heat. Shaw makes the mistake of tasting the water and is soon drawn into fits of migraine headaches and—once he reaches the West Baden Hotel—surreal visions. A young man who is a descendant of Bradford’s becomes a thorn in everyone’s side as he, too, sees visions and is driven to protect old secrets, even if that means committing murder. Like quicksand, So Cold the River slowly pulls the reader in until there’s no going back. What starts out as a curiosity that tugs at your brain becomes a compelling urge, not unlike the one which possesses Shaw, to learn the truth behind the Pluto water and the mysteries that surround Bradford’s history.
Though the end didn’t completely satisfy all the questions I felt Koryta had built up, there’s no denying the power of the story and his ability to tell it in a literate, compelling way. Plus, for those of us who’ve been to the towns of West Baden and French Lick and stayed in the two amazing hotels, Koryta’s novel provides an imaginative turn on the history of the area while documenting the rise, fall, and resurrection of this part of southern Indiana.