So Cold the River by Michael Koryta

Eric Shaw has visions, visions which ruined his promising film career in Hollywood and has damaged his marriage. Returning to Chicago, he makes documentaries about the lives of the deceased, paid for by their families to be shown at their funerals. His visions help him pick out key details, often surprising those viewing.

At one such viewing, he is recruited by Alyssa Bradford to make a documentary about her wealthy father-in-law, whose unknown history is tied to a small resort town in Indiana, West Baden. She gives him an old bottle of Pluto Water, for unknown reasons a prized possession of Campbell Bradford, the elderly and dying father-in-law. Even in the heat of the summer, the water bottle stays ice cold. As Eric gets to West Baden to research his project, his visions increase; when he takes a swig of the water bottle, his visions become lifelike. The visions are of the Campbell Bradford of the past, powerful and violent ruler of West Baden; to many, he was the embodiment of evil. Eric struggles with his sanity: are the visions real? Is the water causing them? Or is he simply insane?

Author Michael Koryta employs the element of doubt…Eric’s doubt about his sanity, doubt about his work…and changes that doubt into one of growing belief in himself. The supernatural part of the book is intermingled with the story line; is Eric sane, or are these visions just that? The author also adds to Eric’s “normal guy” status (a regular hero wouldn’t doubt himself) by having Eric make mistakes, lose in a fight, and generally act ungrateful to his wife and her family. This makes for a much more believable character.

Also unique about this story is the setting. Really, a spa/mineral springs in rural Indiana (near French Lick, home of Larry Bird!) is usually reserved for stories like Hoosiers and other sports oriented themes, not supernatural thrillers.

The ending (no spoilers here) offers a few surprises, and could have been warped to provide room for a sequel…kudos to the other for tying up the loose ends.

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