“Would you rather investigate a murder or a suicide?” “When you write the story, please make something clear. I didn’t have to die. I could go on as long as I want.” Needless to say, these two statements, respectively to Chief Deputy Kimble and Roy Darmus (reporter at the recently defunct local paper), send the two men haring off to the home of Wyatt French in the fear that he intends to commit suicide. They arrive too late…and The Ridge is off to a whizbang start.
(Warning: possible spoilers in the third paragraph down. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
French, when not staggering around the streets in search of his next bottle of bourbon, built a full sized fully functional lighthouse overlooking only an abandoned mine, miles of dense forest and now a large cat refuge. As the area became more built up, the neighbors began complaining about the light disturbing them at night, the local law enforcement agency had to intervene, and French begrudgingly dimmed the beacon a bit. Kimble and Darmus discover that French replaced the visual lights with infrared “lights”, which themselves only point at the long unused railroad bridge to the abandoned mine which used to be the county’s primary source of employment. French also plastered photographs and news clippings concerning accidents on and around the ridge upon which his lighthouse is built around the inside of his living space, with enigmatic annotations such as “No?” on several of them.
Simultaneously with Wyatt’s death, Audrey Clark, determined to carry on with her husband’s dream of a large-cat sanctuary despite her lack of experience and real fear of the animals, completes the sanctuary’s move to a property adjacent to the lighthouse at the insistence of townsfolk afraid to have the sanctuary so close to their homes. This shift to a quieter more remote location should have proved beneficial for the cats as much as for the townsfolk; however, the cats only become agitated further after Wyatt’s death leaves the lighthouse darkened itself after sunset.
As with The Cypress House, The Ridge is not predominantly a horror novel. There is a very strong supernatural element but Koryta blends this supernatural element with suspense and thriller aspects adroitly; unlike The Cypress House, we just have to wait until the end of the book to discover the truth of the matter: an intriguing combination of haunting and pact-with-the-devil that ties many of the seemingly disparate plotlines together neatly. Then ending also settles a gripe I had with The Cypress House–Arlen was seemingly deliberately headed on a course of action which was certain to lead to his own death…and yet Koryta let the character live. In The Ridge, Koryta kills off the sheriff; if the book’s been set up as a tragedy, I think it’s acceptable to kill off your (sympathetic) protagonist(s). That is, after all, one of the primary criteria determining whether the story’s a tragedy!
In the past, if I’ve read two books by the same author I’d review them together; the two of Koryta’s were different enough that I decided to allow them their own entries. Another side note: apparently, Koryta based his fictional large cat sanctuary on a very real one, the Exotic Feline Rescue Center located near Indianapolis; the real center even gets a shoutout in the book, when Clark asks them to take on her cats.