Here, in a hundred words or more, is the problem that I face with reviewing THE RIDGE by Michael Koryta. It was easy to run out of superlatives in the course of reviewing his previous titles, whether it was his earlier Lincoln Perry series or his subsequent stand-alone works, his standout rural crime fiction novels, or his more recent, intermittent forays into the supernatural. So what does one do when confronted with the instant classic such as THE RIDGE, a story of quiet but nonetheless bone-chilling horror, sacrifice and redemption, a simple but multilayered tale of good versus evil? All the superlatives apply here, but have all been used. How, therefore, can I properly and adequately describe the book, other than to shove a copy of it into the hands of everyone I encounter with the instructions "Whatever you do, read this next"? I have no idea, so I'm leaving it at that and going home.
Stephen King. Manly Wade Wellman. August Derleth. Ambrose Bierce. Edgar Allan Poe. And yes, darn it, Michael Koryta. If he never writes another word, he deserves to sit on the shelf next to those authors on the strength of this book alone.
Actually, no, I won't do that, though I am sorely tempted to do so. I will attempt to do things properly instead. Is THE RIDGE a horror story? Yes. A tale of the supernatural? Sure. A thriller? Oh yeah. A mystery? You bet. And...a romance? Oh, indeed. Your eyes will leak and your heart will break. Romeo and Juliet got off easy, let me tell you.
Koryta takes a bunch of disparate elements --- a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as Blade Ridge, Kentucky; Wyatt French, the eccentric alcoholic who built it; an animal preserve full of really big, wild cats; a small town deputy sheriff in love with the woman who tried to kill him; a whole bunch of mysterious deaths, accidental and otherwise, stretching back to the turn of the century (not the most recent one, either); and, hovering just out of sight of it all, rumors of a ghostly blue fire.
The deputy sheriff is Kevin Kimble, and he is tight and squared away, a cop's cop who bears the scars of being shot and wounded by Jacqueline Mathis, who he regularly visits in the women's prison. Things begin rolling when French commits suicide, but not before telephoning eerie warnings to Kimble and the editor of the newly defunct local paper. French has wiled away his hours in the lighthouse, sober and otherwise, assembling quite a disturbing collection of local lore, and Kimble slowly discovers that the history of Blade Ridge is about to intersect with his in ways that he never could have anticipated.
Meanwhile, Audrey Clark, the proprietress of the big cat sanctuary she has created on the land adjacent to the lighthouse, is finding that her charges have been behaving quite bizarrely since French's death. When two of the cats appear to have been instrumental in the violent deaths of a sanctuary employee and another deputy sheriff, the days of the sanctuary appear numbered. Kimble thinks other forces are at work, however, and he is correct, so far as that goes. What he discovers, though, goes far beyond anything he might have anticipated. Mathis knows much more than she is telling, and when Kimble enlists her to help, he soon finds that what he has done will lead to either his heart's greatest dream or his mind's greatest nightmare. Or both.
Stephen King. Manly Wade Wellman. August Derleth. Ambrose Bierce. Edgar Allan Poe. And yes, darn it, Michael Koryta. If he never writes another word, he deserves to sit on the shelf next to those authors on the strength of this book alone. Yes, it builds slowly. But the last two-thirds will cause you to leave finger indentations in the binding. Don't miss this one, not on your life.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 13, 2011