Those Who Wish Me Dead
It is nice to have Michael Koryta back after a bit of an absence. Koryta is one of those authors who is almost impossible to pigeonhole with any sort of accuracy. His work can contain elements of the supernatural (or not), mystery (or not), and suspense (always, to varying degrees). One never knows what to expect of a Koryta novel other than quality prose and storytelling; those elements are in great abundance in THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, his latest work. Those who number themselves among his legion of fans will find their patient wait to be more than amply rewarded.
"[Koryta] continually matches and exceeds the expectations that he himself creates with the release of each new book. I don’t know how he will top THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, but he is one of the very few authors with the potential to do just that."
Jace Wilson is the unfortunate and somewhat unlikely protagonist. Barely into his teens, Jace has witnessed a murder committed by the fully formed and wonderfully named Blackwell Brothers, whose seemingly casual but frighteningly effective brutality and violence are terrifying in the telling. The Blackwells have a number of other aptitudes, including the ability to obtain information that they should not have in a perfect world, and an almost preternatural means of slipping into and out of places and situations. Jace’s rare witness to their carnage makes him an instant target. He is given a new identity and placed in what is intended to be a modified witness protection program until such time as he can testify as to what he has witnessed.
This program is in fact a wilderness-survival school for troubled teens, run by a married couple named Ethan and Allison Serbin. Ethan, a former military operative with a sharply honed skill set, is believed to be one of only a handful of people capable of keeping Jace alive. The Blackwells, however, are relentless, while the school itself contains certain dangers. The Serbins are aided by Hannah Faber, a fire watcher who carries a quiet strength and capability of her own. The Blackwells, though, seem to be an unstoppable force, one that the Serbins and Faber, with all of their skills, knowledge and, yes, courage, seem ultimately unable to withstand.
Then there is, of course, Jace, who has been thrust by chance and circumstance into a situation that is far removed from his youth and experience. As the Blackwells slowly and inexorably approach Jace and his would-be protectors while destroying everyone and everything in between, Jace is faced with difficult choices of equally poor outcome.
I guarantee that you will not soon forget the Blackwells. They are not wholly the product of Koryta’s imagination; rather, they are of the type who decent people encounter and immediately try to banish from memory, letting thought and image of them slide off and away into a primal cesspool. I was reminded of the best of John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy while reading these pages, but most of all, I was reminded of Koryta, who continually matches and exceeds the expectations that he himself creates with the release of each new book. I don’t know how he will top THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD, but he is one of the very few authors with the potential to do just that.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 13, 2014