Audiobook Review: The Chill by Scott Carson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.</small
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 11, 2020)
Length: 14 hrs and 38 mins
Narrator: John Bedford Lloyd
Nestled in the forests of northern New York situated in the Catskills is the small town of Chilewaukee and the calm, quiet waters of their reservoir nicknamed the Chill, which supplies water for millions of people living in the southern part of the state. Beneath its mirror-smooth surface though, lies a terrible history of violence and death. Evidence of that past can still be found in the ruins of Galesburg, lying flooded at the bottom of those clear waters, the final remnants of a town that didn’t go down without a fight. Nearly 80 years have passed since officials came up from the city and tried to force the townspeople out, prompting a fierce rebellion, but in the end, their efforts were all for naught. The Chilewaukee dam and reservoir were still constructed “for the greater good”, and Galesburg was drowned.
Now though, the once proud dam sports cracks and leaks, a result of decades of negligence and oversight. Enter Mick Fleming, chief engineer of the state’s water infrastructure, whose grandfather was also the architect behind the Chilewaukee dam. But while in town doing inspections, Mick spies a strange man lurking around in the woods, claiming to be a freelance journalist and photographer. Meanwhile, Chilewaukee’s sheriff Steve Ellsworth has his hands full with his son Aaron, a young man who hasn’t been quite the same since his mother died. Bounced out of the Coast Guard’s rigorous rescue swimming program for letting his temper get to him, Aaron returned to his hometown and immediately fell in with the wrong crowd, getting into drugs and drinking. Steve wishes very badly for Aaron to turn his life around, but when the day finally comes, it is not in the way the sheriff wanted or even dreamed could happen. The terrible incident brings officer Gillian Mathers of the Department of Environmental Protection Police to Chilewaukee, where she expected to deal with an accidental murder, but instead is faced with something far weirder. With ties to the drowned village of Galesburg herself, Gillian listens to Aaron’s wild, impossible report of what happened, while hiding the fact she knows more than she lets on.
This is the initial set up for the premise of The Chill, by thriller author Michael Koryta writing under the pseudonym Scott Carson. It had the potential for so much mystery, horror, and drama, and for the first half of the book, at least, the story delivered all that and more. At a certain point though, the storytelling takes a sharp nosedive, and the following are the reasons why I think this happened. One, as it sometimes happens with even the most experienced of authors, Carson decided to get a little too enthusiastic with sharing of information about the logistics and architectural challenges of building a damn dam. Yes, I get it—while doing prep work for their books, authors no doubt come across fascinating tidbits in their research all the time. Doesn’t mean the readers always want to hear about them though. It makes for dry reading, and here, it resulted in too many sections where pacing dragged, and the halted momentum caused the rest of the novel’s strengths to crumble along with its chances of being a great book.
Character development appeared to be an early casualty, as I thought another reason for the lackluster second half was absence of genuinely interesting personalities. The character I enjoyed reading about most also happened to be the most flawed, and that was Aaron, an angry and troubled young man whom I admittedly wanted to throttle from the first moment he showed up on the page. However, the first half saw him making great strides, though ultimately that progress was completely obliterated by the meandering narrative and overly complex dam history and mythology which followed. By the end of the book, there were few characters I connected with enough to care whether they made it out alive or not.
And finally, the heady atmosphere of eeriness and mystery present in the beginning was pretty much all gone by the halfway point. I’ve seen The Chill being compared to Stephen King, who apparently even provided a blurb and recommended it on social media, and in many respects I can even understand why some folks would draw similarities, especially in the novel’s supernatural elements. What it lacked, however, was the keen sense of dread that King does so well, the way he can maintain a high level of suspense so that even when the reader know exactly what’s coming, you’re kept on the edge of your seat. When the inevitable finally does come in The Chill though, there was no surprise or horror, just a sense of detachment as I watched the disaster play out with bored apathy.
Even the audiobook narrator couldn’t really save this one for me, even though John Bedford Lloyd is a great reader who has done a few other thrillers I enjoyed. His performance in The Chill was solid, but because of the way this novel was structured, I think it could have used multiple narrators which would have made the experience more immersive.
Overall, this was a book that had an amazing concept and lots of potential. Sadly, after a promising first half, things rapidly unraveled and in the end I was left feeling cold—not chilled to the bone like I had wanted, but filled with disappointment and indifference.