At Blade Ridge, in the hills of Kentucky, a crazy old drunk has built a lighthouse hundreds of miles from the sea. Just over the way a woman has opened a sanctuary for lions, tigers and cougars. If the setting for Michael Koryta’s latest spinechiller sounds a bit daft, it’s a testament to his skill that the reader soon forgets any doubts about lions and lighthouses in Kentucky, and instead becomes riveted by his perverse, chilling story. As one character says, ‘Keep an eye out there. It’s a damn strange place.’
The crazy drunk is Wyatt French, who makes a couple of disturbing phone calls to two local men – deputy sheriff Kevin Kimble and Roy Darmus, veteran reporter on the town’s recently closed local paper. Wyatt makes strange warnings and appeals. To Darmus: ‘I did more than most. I fought it… I’m getting scared of the dark coming. I want you to tell this story.’ To the cop: he asks Kimble if he would prefer to have a murder or suicide on his hands – but adds, what if the suicide victim weren’t entirely willing?
These cryptic calls also needle Kimble and Darmus by making personal and painful points. Wyatt says Darmus should show the character his parents showed when they died in a crash near the Ridge, and that Kimble should beware of the woman he is seeing. That woman is Jacqueline Mathis, who is in prison for having shot Kimble. The deputy sheriff is secretly in love with the woman he tried to rescue from her abusive husband, but who shot him…
So, Kimble and Darmus are tipped into exploring the strange events around Blade Ridge, where deep forest surrounds the weird lighthouse and an old trestle bridge. The large cats are in uproar when moved there, and Kimble’s colleague, Nathan Shipley, has a mysterious car crash nearby when he thinks he sees a man in the road. It later turns out that Jacqueline also has a strange connection to the Ridge.
The author is compared on the jacket of The Ridge with Stephen King, and as often happens in many of the master’s best stories, it turns out there is a poisoned history here. Kimble and Darmus discover that the building of the trestle bridge a century or so before by a ruthless company was mired in death and expediency.
This is a cleverly written story with some flawed and intriguing characters, particularly the good but obsessed cop, Kimble. It unfolds in such a way that the chilling background is revealed gradually to different characters and the reader so that we all slowly piece together the horror of what is happening at Blade Ridge. Its theme is reminiscent of King’s tremendous horror Pet Sematary, but Koryta weaves his own distinctive spell here.
A delicious slice of what-if fiction, with a crazed but believable ending.