Written by Michael Koryta – With last year’s novel, Last Words, Koryta introduced us to his new series character Mark Novak, an investigator for a legal firm taking pro-bono death row cases where there is a possibility of a miscarriage of justice. That book introduced many crime fiction lovers to an author who has been likened to Stephen King and it ranked among my five top crime books of 2015.
In terms of Novak himself, we were introduced to a compelling investigator whose mission to find his wife’s murderer – and threats of violent retribution – clashed with his employer’s more human mission. As Rise the Dark begins, a man called Garland Webb has been released from jail. Once charged with Lauren Novak’s murder, he was serving time for another crime and on release begins taunting Mark Novak.
Webb’s sadistic message sends Novak racing back to Cassadaga, Florida, the sleepy town where Lauren was shot. While there, he’s attacked by Janell Cole, a killer posing as a spiritualist who claims to have received a message from Lauren. Novak survives and discovers not just the corpse of the real spiritualist but graffiti scrawled chaotically about the house including the phrase ‘RISE THE DARK’. The same words were discovered in Lauren’s notebook, and neither Novak nor the police could decipher their meaning. Now it seems Lauren wasn’t the victim of a chance attack, but a wider conspiracy involving Webb was at play.
Meanwhile, in Red Lodge, Montana, Sabrina Baldwin is kidnapped when her husband Jay is called out to repair an act of vandalism which has brought down some power lines. The people holding her hostage intend to use her as a sword of Damocles hanging over Jay. If he ever wants to see Sabrina alive again, he needs to keep the authorities in the dark over Sabrina’s disappearance and must be ready at a moment’s notice to commit a highly-dangerous and unprecedented terror attack.
Novak’s investigation ultimately leads him to the snow-swept mountains of Montana and a reckoning with the man who murdered his wife. Lesser writers might have given us one tense action-filled climax but Michael Koryta delivers two. One between Novak and his wife’s murderer in a survivalist-style cabin in the peaks, and a second where Jay battles his tormentor beneath one of the most powerful forces of nature – electricity.
One of the ways this author separates himself from other writers is his ability to wring the maximum amount of drama and entertainment from his premise. You know what the stakes are for Jay and what will happen to him should his wife not be saved because it has been foreshadowed. Novak is what Jay will become – eaten up with guilt and a desire for vengeance – if Sabrina dies.
Koryta develops Novak’s character further, having him not just confront his feelings about his wife’s death, but also much further back into his own wayward upbringing as family members are unwittingly tangled up in the terror plot.
The setting in a Koryta novel isn’t just described, it becomes an additional antagonist in the story. Whether it be the snowy peaks of Montana in the winter, the mountains that pose such a fire risk in Those Who Wish Me Dead (soon to be a movie), or the madness-inducing pitch black and seemingly endless caves of Last Words, each is an obstacle to be overcome and just as dangerous as any human foe.
Is it possible we will be treated to some more Novak in the future? I don’t know. What I do know is that Koryta’s last three novels represent the high water mark for modern thriller writing and whatever he writes next I will be reading.
Michael Koryta may be called the next Stephen King, but don’t write off Stephen King just yet! Have a look at our reviews for Joyland, Mr Mercedes, and Finders Keepers.
Hodder & Stoughton
CFL Rating: 5 Stars