"Don't embarrass me with this shit."
Investigator Mark Novak can't get those words out of his head; two years ago they were the last words he spoke to his wife before she was murdered. It also happens to be exactly what I was thinking when I started this book. I like Koryta but he's been hit ( So Cold the River ) or miss (Those Who Wish Me Dead) in the past.
Mark works for a pro bono company that frees wrongfully convicted criminals. They get a letter from a small-town pariah named Ridley Barnes who isn't even in prison but for years has been under suspicion for murder. When a girl went missing in the local caves, Ridley was the experienced (if mostly batshit, no pun intended) cave expert who brought her out. Bad news was, she was dead and his time in the cave was riddled with memory holes and strange exclamations about the mystical qualities of the cave. Didn't help he referred to the cave as a "she." Anyway, the town decides he's guilty despite lack of evidence and Ridley decides he has to find out for himself if he is guilty. Enter Novak, who has been careening around looking for whoever killed his wife.
Ridley's hometown of Garrison, IL has all the stereotypical small-town characters you'd expect and sadly, none of the surprises. Again and again, Mark runs into people who won't talk, truth that's skirted like an antebellum housewife and characters that lack so much fleshing-out they may as well be on a forensics table.
I admit caves scare me silly, so if I'm going to spend even imaginary-time in one, there had better be a pay-off. I waited and hoped that there would be something supernatural or at least surprising as the mystery unfolded, but only got a goose egg and a reveal that was lacking in both imagination and impact. If you're interested in caving - or even not - and want an interesting story of what goes on down there, let me recommend Jeff Long's The Descent (not the same story as the movie, trust me) or Cherie Priest's Those Who Went Remain There Still.