A decade ago, a 17-year-old girl was found dead, beaten and handcuffed, after disappearing inside an Indiana tourist cave. Private investigator Mark Novak's career, and well-being, may depend on his ability to solve this cold case.
Novak works for a pro bono Florida firm that specializes in exonerating death-row inmates. They've been asked to look into this small-town killing by the man many people think committed the crime, Ridley Barnes, an oddball caver who may have motives besides clearing his name in contacting them. He found young Sarah Martin after disappearing inside the cave himself for an extended time and emerging with her dead body while in a hypothermic, manic state. Novak's bosses have assigned him this back-burner case not out of any real interest in it but to give him a chance to regain his bearings. He has been acting erratically since the murder of his wife (and co-worker) two years ago. Novak thinks he'll be in and out of town in a day or two, but the more he uncovers about the townspeople—and the more he's subjected to scare tactics and violence—the deeper into the case he digs. The best and most suspenseful parts of the book by far are the ones set underground, particularly the scene in which bad guys drug and strip Novak and deposit him inside the cave. Koryta evokes the pitch-dark, damp, bone-cold setting so well, it's easy to share the claustrophobia and eerie visions the character experiences. Unfortunately, the plot feels forced; lacking in standout characters, it doesn't create anywhere near the sustained tension of Koryta's terrific previous efforts, Those Who Wish Me Dead (2014) and The Prophet (2012).
In its use of cave settings, Koryta’s latest thriller is ingenious and gripping, but those scenes can't make up for patches of plodding storytelling.