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July 16, 2010 / C.T. Henry

DISAPPOINTED IN CONNOLLY AND KORYTA

Two of my favorite authors released new books in 2010.  In May, John Connolly published The Whisperers and Michael Koryta published So Cold the River in June.  Even though I usually wait for the paperback version, I was so excited that I decided to buy the hardback.  Unfortunately, neither thriller lived up to my high expectations.

Synopsis: “‘Oh, little one,’ he whispered, as he gently stroked her cheek, the first time he had touched her in fifteen years. ‘What have they done to you? What have they done to us all?’ ” In his latest dark and chilling Charlie Parker thriller, author John Connolly takes us to the border between Maine and Canada. It is there, in the vast and porous Great North Woods, that a dangerous smuggling operation is taking place, run by a group of disenchanted former soldiers, newly returned from Iraq. Illicit goods—drugs, cash, weapons, even people—are changing hands. And something else has changed hands. Something ancient and powerful and evil.

The authorities suspect something is amiss, but what they can’t know is that it is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the darkness in men’s hearts. As the smugglers begin to die one after another in apparent suicides, Parker is called in to stop the bloodletting. The soldiers’ actions and the objects they have smuggled have attracted the attention of the reclusive Herod, a man with a taste for the strange. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector. . . .

Review: Reading Connolly’s latest Parker novel was disappointing and frustrating.  In The Whisperers, every time Connolly introduces a character (no matter if it’s a minor or major character) he feels the need to give the character’s back-story before returning to the real plot.  So many tangents eventually become annoying.  Furthermore, it’s almost as if he’s afraid to really write the supernatural parts because he knows it may frighten away new readers to the series.  So he disguises it within the folds of different narratives until he has no choice but to confront it.

While I celebrated the return of the Collector, Parker’s voice was very passive in this latest thriller.  Too much of it was Connelly’s research into post-traumatic stress disorder and its effects on soldiers returning from Iraq.  Just before the release of this book, Connolly posted a telling article to his blog, wondering whether he’s jumped the shark?  Having read all of his Charlie Parker series, I’d have to say: Yes. The Whisperers definitely jumped the shark.  In the background of the series, he’s built a compelling mythos about Charlie Parker’s angelic nature.  Connolly needs to deliver on this promise, which he began to unveil in The Lovers.  Otherwise, loyal fans will know that they’ve been taken for a ride and abandon him.

This is Michael Koryta’s first foray into the supernatural thriller genre. Best known for his excellent hard-boiled mystery series featuring Lincoln Perry, Kortya has switched gears.  First, he wrote the superb thriller, Envy the Night, and won critical acclaim.

Synopsis: It started with a beautiful woman and a challenge. As a gift for her husband, Alyssa Bradford approaches Eric Shaw to make a documentary about her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, a 95-year-old billionaire whose past is wrapped in mystery. Eric grabs the job even though there are few clues to the man’s past–just the name of his hometown and an antique water bottle he’s kept his entire life.

In Bradford’s hometown, Eric discovers an extraordinary history–a glorious domed hotel where movie stars, presidents, athletes, and mobsters once mingled, and hot springs whose miraculous mineral water cured everything from insomnia to malaria. Neglected for years, the resort has been restored to its former grandeur just in time for Eric’s stay.

Just hours after his arrival, Eric experiences a frighteningly vivid vision. As the days pass, the frequency and intensity of his hallucinations increase and draw Eric deeper into the town’s dark history. He discovers that something besides the hotel has been restored–a long-forgotten evil that will stop at nothing to regain its lost glory. Brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, So Cold the River is a tale of irresistible suspense with a racing, unstoppable current.

Review: This summer, Koryta released So Cold the River, which is neither suspenseful nor a thrilling. I was very disappointed in other reviewers, who thought that this story was “creepy” or “scary.”  If you’ve read Stephen King or Dean Koontz, you’re left wondering what part were they talking about?

Protagonist Eric Shaw has always had a tenuous hold on the past.  He gets gut feelings about violent incidents that have happened in the past. On a videography assignment in Indiana, he looks into the childhood past of Chicago billionaire, Campbell Bradford.  Not only does Eric travel to Bradford’s childhood home, but he also drinks from a mysterious, old bottle in the billionaire’s possession.  At first, the strange liquid is repulsive, but then it tastes sweet, giving Eric visions of the past and taking him on a journey that will help him solve the mystery of the billionaire’s past.

While the first chapter entices you to read on, later chapters leave you wanting.  Even though Eric has this mysterious gift to see past events, he isn’t quite likable.  However, my main problem with the book is the way the story is told in the third-person from three different perspectives: Eric Shaw, the bad guy, and an old woman.  Instead of the unoriginal switching back and forth between the good guy and the bad guy, Koryta adds the perspective of an elderly woman, which I first thought was clever.   Unfortunately, her passages didn’t add to the pace or the suspense. In the end, I wondered why she was such a pivotal character.

Although I was very impressed with Koryta’s first action thriller, Envy the Night, So Cold the River fails miserably as a supernatural thriller.  Nevertheless, if he continues to develop the Lincoln Perry series, I can easily see him as the worthy successor to Dennis Lehane.

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