Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Ridge - Michael Koryta


The Ridge
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company
 
Fiction

Every town has its history; even a tiny, out-of-the-way town in eastern Kentucky.  Back in the 1880s, the town founders thought this was the place to mine resources and build a railroad trestle to ship it all over the country.  It should have worked.  But, somehow, the man in charge lost his mind and the family eventually lost interest in the project.  Still, the railroad trestle sits there, in the woods, on Blade Ridge.  Over a century later, local ‘character’ Wyatt French decided to buy some land and build a wooden lighthouse.  Most people consider him an eccentric at best, a hopeless drunk at worst, and the lighthouse has become an odd local landmark that didn’t really bother anyone.
 
That is, until Audrey Clark decided to fulfill her late husband’s wish and relocate a large cat preserve to a piece of land that is essentially across the road from the lighthouse.  Audrey and her resident cat expert, Wes, are worried that the light will disturb the cats.  That’s the least of their worries.  As they’re moving in, deputy Kimble is making another trip to prison to visit the woman who killed her husband, then turned the gun on him.  He’s conflicted, but compelled to make the trip.  As he drives through the early morning, Wyatt French calls him, asking cryptic questions about whether Kimble would rather respond to a homicide or a suicide.  Wyatt’s round of calls continues when he contacts Roy Darmus, longtime writer for the local newspaper, and tells him that he should be proud of the choices his parents made.  Darmus is insulted; his parents died decades ago in a car crash up on Blade Ridge. 
 
The story begins with the odd phone calls from Wyatt French.  He extracts a promise from Darmus to find out the truth.  Since that’s been Darmus’ life calling, he agrees.  It doesn’t take long for all of these seemingly disparate threads to be wound inextricably together.  The author does a masterful job of establishing an atmosphere from the first pages.  All the action takes place in a fairly small area, adding to the sense of entrapment felt by the characters. 
 
Mr. Koryta’s books (SO COLD THE RIVER, THE CYPRESS HOUSE) will inevitably be compared to writers like Stephen King, Bentley Little, or Dan Simmons.  Readers who enjoy those novels will be thrilled to find this one.  The addition of the large cat rescue was easy for me to visualize, having visited just such a facility in the past.  The characters (including the cats) react in believable ways to fairly unbelievable events.  But that’s the gift of the writer: to make even the strangest incidents make sense in the context of the narrative.  The story is truly original and chilling.  I defy any reader to get through the first couple of chapters (the strange phone calls) and be able to put the book aside.  I couldn’t.  I found myself turning pages long into the night, and I’m already considering starting over just to enjoy losing myself in the story all over again.
 
Rating: 9
June 2011
ISBN# 978-0-316-05366-2 (hardcover)

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