Book Talk: Michael Koryta, ‘Rise the Dark’
Michael Koryta’s “Rise the Dark” (2016, 445 pages in paperback edition) is the sequel to “Last Words,” which I reviewed last week. Aside from my admiration of Koryta as an excellent mystery writer, I am once again amazed by his intimate, seemingly experiential knowledge of subjects as diverse as the convolutions of cave systems (“Last Words”) the dynamics of a wildfire (“Those Who Wish Me Dead”) or the knowledge of pharmacology (“How It Happened”), the latter two novels will be reviewed in upcoming columns.
In this novel, Mark Novak, a Florida investigator who escaped the other-worldly caves of Indiana in “Lost Words” continues his search for the man who killed his wife. He begins his search by returning to the Florida town of Cassadaga, where he meets Dixie, an attractive woman who claims to be a spiritualist who speaks with the dead. She tells Novak, “I’m a channel, Markus. A conduit for energy.” She also seems to be a conduit for death. But, before she attempts to kill Novak, she reveals that a man named Garland Webb was involved in Novak’s wife’s death.
Webb, the suspected killer, had been imprisoned for sexual assault in Montana, but he’s been released on technicalities. Now, he’s involved with some sort of cult that is intent on bringing down the entire grid that serves the Pacific Northwest and blaming it on extremist Islamic terrorists. The cult leaders include Novak’s estranged mother, Violet, who has adopted the visage of a Native American woman, and she also claims to have psychic powers.
When Novak arrives in Montana, he is reunited with family members who are involved with drugs and petty crimes, and his mother is the companion of the novel’s prime antagonist, Eli Pate. Pate believes that by taking down the electricity grid, he will be able to topple the U.S. government. To accomplish this feat, he sends Webb to kidnap Sabrina, the wife of Jay Baldwin, an electric company lineman who has experience with extremely high-voltage lines.
Working on the tall towers that support the grid through the mountains of Montana and Wyoming is very dangerous, but Pate has a plan to disable scores of such towers with Jay’s help. Of course, Jay’s immediate concern is the protection of his wife, so he’s completely in Pate’s control.
Pate is quite brilliant, and quite mad. He is fluent in nine languages and an admirer of the electricity genius Nikola Tesla. His great esteem for Tesla may have been the inspiration for his plot. However, choosing Baldwin for the task of bringing down the grid by felling the supportive towers was probably not the best move because Baldwin watched his brother-in-law die from contact with the high voltage wires. “The electricity cooked you in your own blood, leaving nothing but a blackened, shriveled shell behind.”
The book’s climax combines an appreciation of Montana’s natural beauty with the tension of a well-drawn mystery/thriller. And there’s room for a third Novak novel because Mark has a score to settle with Dixie back in Cassadaga, and the feeling is mutual.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.