by Terell Byrd
As the summer begins to wind down, here are a couple of mystery book reviews for your summer reading fun, The Ridge by Michael Koryta and The Worst Thing by Aaron Elkins.
The Ridge by Michael Koryta
It is just before dawn and Deputy Kevin Kimble is driving down the rain drenched serpentine roads in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. As he descends to the plain and into the fog, a call comes through on his cell phone. Local drunk and eccentric Wyatt French is on the other end of the line. French asks if a suicide is investigated in the same manner as a homicide.
Roy Darness, the last journalist to remain in the newsroom of the Sawyer County Sentinel, also receives a call from Wyatt French. Roy Darness once did a kind piece on French and his lighthouse. The lighthouse is up on Blade Ridge where there are no boats, no body of water near, no reefs, sandbars or shoals. Just the woods and what may lurk in them after dark. The small town newspaper (the Sentinel) closed down the day before, but Roy Darness goes out to investigate one last story and finds the old man dead.
The last crusade of Wyatt French was to try to stop the opening of a large cat sanctuary near his property. He was vehement in his last conversation that it should not be put there; the animals would only bring more people to the area of the Ridge. But the cats come and the old lighthouse keeper’s death is just the beginning of the journey to discover the dark secret of the Ridge.
I tend to walk around with my eyes on the ground (literally) and my head in the clouds (not literally). I admit that I had not heard of Michael Koryta before. I have no doubt it is because of the aforementioned eyes on the ground. I usually go to the bookstore and pick up whatever I have asked to be held at the front desk, trying not to look at all the tempting gorgeous new novels. I regret that I have missed the other volumes by Koryta – I have a lot of catching up to do.
The Ridge is a fascinating tale on several levels. The introduction above should highlight the nature of the story: the leave the lights on, just a few more pages and I’ll go to bed, up all night spirit of the book. There is a lot of fascinating information on big cats: tigers, lions and the controversy over whether the legendary black cougar is real. There is a tormented relationship that illustrates with convincing realism why such things exist. It is a thriller, more than a horror story, so don’t be afraid to read it.
Pick up the book and read it on a long hot summer afternoon. With the slight chill of the story, you won’t even need the air conditioner. Be amazed by the writing of Michael Koryta and his new take on why it is reasonable to be scared of the dark.
Check out KRL’s review of another of Michael Kortya’s books, The Cypress House.
The Worst Thing by Aaron Elkins
I have learned never to ask myself or anyone else, “What is the worst thing that can happen?” It can always be worse, and horrible things do sometimes happen. Fortunately, for most of us, we usually worry over things that never come to pass. I always wonder about those who have to find a way to live after the unthinkable occurs; the murder of a loved one, a fire that burns everything they own or being imprisoned by cruel people, never knowing whether the torture today will end in death or if there may still be life after captivity.
For Bryan Bennett, the main character in this stand alone book, the worst thing has already happened. As a small boy he was kidnapped and held in a tiny dripping cell for almost two months. He has recovered, for the most part, and has a good career creating programs to teach crisis management for corporations.
Kidnapping, extortion and terror are everywhere and the courses are in great demand. He does not like to do the teaching part of the seminars. He cannot bear to do the talking in a live hostage negotiation.
Thirty years after his ordeal, he still has occasional screaming nightmares and panic attacks. He avoids the triggers of the anxiety attacks when he can and keeps Xanax with him when avoidance is impossible. He can usually stay away from the seemingly innocuous triggers like bananas and manure. He manages to live without having to travel more than a car ride away. He cannot bear to be in a confined space; trains and autos are tolerable in small amounts (because he can get off), but airplanes are out of the question if he is conscious.
Bryan’s boss offers him an all expense paid trip to teach just one corporate kidnapping seminar. First class all the way. Just one catch, it is in Iceland. At first he refuses, but then rethinks the deal. His wife has been deprived of her dreams of world travel and maybe this is the opportunity to slay his personal demons and live a normal life. After all, what is the worst that could happen?
This is the most realistic portrayal of a person living with anxiety attacks I have read. The author had personal experience with the condition for ten years. The main character is someone who copes with life well, under the circumstances. There is no pity party here, just a fascinating tale of intrigue with a very human twist. It is a non-stop tale of suspense and action.
I highly recommend the book. Iceland in March sounds good as we enter the triple digit temperatures of summer in the valley. A fascinating place and a marvelous old culture lend an exotic backdrop to this story. Be warned, do not cheat and read the ending until you get there. I am rarely startled by the ending of a book but this one was an extraordinary surprise!
Terrell is a member of the Fresno Chapter of Sisters In Crime, a mystery readers and writers group. To learn more about them and their meetings check out their event page here on KRL.