Let’s start with the excellent blurb:
A supernatural force—set in motion a century ago—threatens to devastate New York City in this “terrific horror/suspense/disaster novel” that “grips from the first page” (Stephen King, #1 New York Times bestselling author).
Far upstate, in New York’s ancient forests, a drowned village lays beneath the dark, still waters of the Chilewaukee reservoir. Early in the 20th century, the town was destroyed for the greater good: bringing water to the millions living downstate. Or at least that’s what the politicians from Manhattan insisted at the time. The local families, settled there since America’s founding, were forced from their land, but some didn’t leave…
Now, a century later, the repercussions of human arrogance are finally making themselves known. An inspector assigned to oversee the dam, dangerously neglected for decades, witnesses something inexplicable. It turns out that more than the village was left behind in the waters of the Chill when it was abandoned. A dark prophecy remained, too, and the time has come for it to be fulfilled—for sacrifices must be made. And as the dark waters begin to inexorably rise, the demand for a fresh sacrifice emerges from the deep…
Now for the review:
Scott Carson’s debut chiller-thriller, or dare I say ‘horror’ because the publishing industry won’t, released to a tsunami of hype. The likes of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Michael Connelly all threw their weight behind it. And King’s wasn’t his stock, “If you like my stuff you’ll love this.” So I had high hopes, but did it deliver on the hype?
The novel is set predominantly in the Catskill mountains in upstate New York at the Chilewaukee reservoir, known to the locals at ‘The Chill.’ And who doesn’t love a good pun? The Chill is a relic: a reservoir built to ensure a clean water supply for New York downstream, but it was never used. The backstory, and this is where the story really gets going, is that the building of the damn required the displacement of some long established towns, including Galesburg. The town resisted and violently so, but ultimately the powers of New York city built their damn and little Galesburg lost? Or did they?
We’re in familiar King-esque troupe that certain spots on this planet are bridges to supernatural planes – think Indian burial grounds and Wendigos – but Carson makes this his own. Those old roots are mentioned but never overplayed. They are one thread of a richer tapestry of interwoven personal histories, whose consequences are playing out in the present.
Carson sets up a delicious metaphysical backstory of an old community, connected with the land who gets whipped into a fanatic frenzy by a mysterious figure in protection of their land. This is a protection that will not be bound by time or the limits of moral flesh. The families of Galesburg make a packed to continue their traditions and beliefs, to pass it down the generations.
I’ll not say anymore because we’ll get into plot spoilers. But let me just say that Galesburg wants its water back and all the forces seem to be building to threaten the damn, and if a damn breaks then whatever is downstream, including New York city will suffer.
The thing I loved most about this novel was the cast of characters. They sucked me in and Aaron in particular, the son of the local sheriff, has a brilliant arc. The other principal character, Gillian, was similarly engaging. Together, these two characters form a composite of our hero. They are both the main protagonists, with demons to overcome, and in their different ways both have a connection with the water at the Chill.
It was a slow burn, and I’ve read some of the Amazon and Goodreads reviews which seem to think this is a bad thing. I don’t. The pages drip with a subtle tension that slowly builds, like the pressure at the damn. It’s written in wonderfully short chapters, each of which is rich with the world of the story and the troubles of the characters. The plot is paid out gradually and pulled me in like an insistent tide, making me want to discover more of the lore of Galesburg, the packed the town’s folks made, and how the disaster was to be brought about.
There are big themes going on here too: about civilisation and its relationship with nature; about family and responsibility; about community in the modern world; and about loss and
how we deal with it. One could ask deeper questions about if people in the present are responsible for the crimes of their ancestors. You don’t have to go that deep and it’s subtle enough for Carson not to get cancelled on social media for posting the question – although Scott Carson is a pen name for New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of 14 other novels, Michael Koryta. These themes are the waves of meaning breaking on the shores of our consciousness that give The Chill a greater resonance for me. They are an irresistible tide that pulls you into the depths of the story and won’t let you go until you turn the last page.
The Chill fits into that breed of novel which I’m calling a chiller-thriller. The kind of thing which is really a horror in the supernatural scene but for some reason, probably because the big traditional publishing houses don’t think that horror sells. And maybe it doesn’t in the volume
In summary, The Chill was one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year. Scott Carson delivers an irresistible supernatural chiller-thriller, populated by ghosts of a sunken town and characters with depth as deep as the reservoir that might cause the biggest disaster New York city has ever seen. The novel manages to be both intimate and epic in its scope, and its characters will haunt you long after the novel has been drowned among the other books on your shelves.
Find out more about Scott Carson here at his website
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