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For deputy sheriff Kevin Kimble, the lighthouse-keeper’s death is disturbing and personal. Years ago, Kimble was shot while on duty. Somehow the death suggests a connection between the lighthouse and the most terrifying moment of his life.
Audrey Clark is in the midst of moving her large-cat sanctuary onto land adjacent to the lighthouse. Sixty-seven tigers, lions, leopards, and one legendary black panther are about to have a new home there. Her husband, the sanctuary’s founder, died scouting the new property, and Audrey is determined to see his vision through.
As strange occurrences multiply at the Ridge, the animals grow ever more restless, and Kimble and Audrey try to understand what evil forces are moving through this ancient landscape, just past the divide between dark and light.
The Ridge is a brilliant thriller from international bestseller Michael Koryta, further evidence of why Dean Koontz has said “Michael Koryta’s work resonates into deeper strata than does most of what I read” and why Michael Connelly has named him “one of the best of the best.”
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
A Preview of Rise the Dark
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KEVIN KIMBLE MADE THE drive to the prison before dawn, as he always did, the mountains falling away as dark silhouettes in the rearview mirror. In the summer the fields below had been rich with the smells of damp soil and green plants reaching to meet the oncoming sun, but now the air was cold and darkness lingered and the scents were of dead leaves and wood smoke.
It was an hour-long trip through winding country highways, traffic almost nonexistent this early, and he could feel the familiar weight of a sleepless night as he drove. He was never able to sleep the nights before the visits.
A steady rain was falling when he left Sawyer County, but down out of the mountains of eastern Kentucky and into the fields in the north-central portion of the state the rain tapered off into a thick fog, the world existing in gray tendrils. Foreboding, but peaceful and silent.
Shattered by a cell-phone ring.
He looked at the display, expecting to see his department's dispatch number, but was instead faced with one he didn't recognize. He considered letting the call go to voicemail, but it was 5:35 A.M. and even wrong numbers deserved to be answered at such a time, just in case.
"Chief Deputy Kimble," he said, putting the phone to his ear.
"Good morning. I hope I didn't wake you. I had a feeling I wouldn't."
Kimble shifted his hand to the top of the steering wheel and swung out into the next lane, away from a semi that was casting a thick spray back into his windshield as it chugged northbound, toward the Ohio River.
"How'd you get this number?" Kimble knew Wyatt French through one thing only—police work, and it was not as a colleague. He wasn't in the habit of giving out his personal number to the people he arrested or interviewed, the two roles Wyatt French had occupied in the past. Kimble had done such a thing just once, in fact, and endured eight months of physical therapy after that decision.
"I have a question for you," French said.
"I just asked you one of my own."
"Mine's a little more important." The man's voice sounded off, something coming up from beneath rocks or behind a sewer grate, someplace home to echoes and faint water sounds.
"You've been drinking, Mr. French."
"So I have. It's a legal enterprise, chief deputy."
"Conditionally legal," said Kimble, who had arrested Wyatt for public intoxication on three occasions and once for drunk driving. "Where are you?"
"I'm at home, where it's absolutely legal."
Home. Wyatt French's home was a wooden lighthouse he'd built with his own hands. When he wasn't causing trouble in the Whitman town streets, a bottle of cheap bourbon in hand or tucked into his mouth between a bristling gray mustache and an unkempt beard, the department still had to field complaints about the man. The strange, pulsing light that lit the woods in the rural stretch of abandoned mining country where he lived drew curiosity and ire.
"You're on the road," French said. "Aren't you? Early for a drive."
Kimble, who had things more personal weighing on his mind than this old drunk in the lighthouse, said, "Go to bed, man. Get some sleep. And however you got this number? Delete it. Don't call my private number again."
"I would like a question answered!"
Kimble moved his foot to the brake, tapped gently, dropping the speed down below the limit. French's voice had gone dark and furious, and for the first time, Kimble had a sense of real concern over the man's call.
"What's your question?"
"You're in charge of criminal investigations for your department," French said. "For the whole county."
"Which would you rather have: a homicide or a suicide?"
Kimble had a vision of Wyatt as he'd seen him last, weaving down the sidewalk outside a liquor store in the middle of the day. Kimble was on his way to buy a sandwich for lunch and Wyatt was on his way back from having attempted to buy a bottle of bourbon for the same. They bounced him out when he tried to pay with quarters, dimes, and nickels. That had been a few months ago. Since then, Kimble hadn't seen the old degenerate around any of his usual haunts.
"Mr. French," he said. "Wyatt? Don't talk like that. Okay? Just put the bottle down and get into bed."
"I'll get more than enough rest once I've had an answer. It matters to me, Deputy Kimble. It matters a great deal."
Silence, then, in a strained voice, "The question was simple. Would you rather have a—"
"Suicide," Kimble interrupted. "There, you happy? I picked, and I was honest. But I don't want either, Wyatt. I hate them both, and if there's some reason for this call beyond alcohol, then—"
That provoked a long, unsettling laugh, the tone far too high and keening for Wyatt's natural voice.
"There's a reason beyond booze, yes, sir."
"What is it?"
"You said you would prefer a suicide. I'm of a mind to agree, but I'd like to hear your reasoning. Why is a suicide better?"
Kimble was drifting along in the right lane, alone in the smoky fog and mist. He said, "Because I don't have to worry about anyone else being hurt by that particular person. It's always tragic, but at least I don't have to worry about them pointing a gun at someone else and pulling the trigger."
"Exactly. The very conclusion I reached myself."
"If you have any thoughts of suicide, then I've got a number I want you to call. I'm serious about this. I want you—"
"Now what if," Wyatt French said, "the suicide victim wasn't entirely willing."
Kimble felt an uneasy chill. "Then it's not a suicide."
"You say that confidently."
"I am confident. If the death was not the subject's goal, then it was not a suicide. By definition."
"So even if a man killed himself, but there was evidence that he'd been compelled to in some way—"
"Wyatt, stop. Stop talking like this. Are you going to hurt yourself?"
"I wanted to know if there was any difference in the way you'd investigate," the man said, his words clearer now, less of the bourbon speaking for him. "Do you pursue the root causes of a suicide in the same manner that you would a homicide?"
Kimble drove along in the hiss of tires on rain-soaked pavement for a time, then said, "I pursue the truth."
"Always. Don't give me anything to pursue today, Wyatt. I'm not joking. If someone has been hurt, you tell me that right now. Tell me that."
"No one has been hurt yet."
Yet. Kimble didn't like that. "If you're thinking about suicide, or anything else, then I want—"
"My thoughts aren't your concern, deputy. You have many concerns around you in Sawyer County, some of them quite serious, but my thoughts aren't the problem."
"I'm going to give you a number," Kimble said again, "and ask you to call it for me, please. You called me early, and on a private line, and I've given you my time and respect. I hope you'll do the same for me."
"Certainly, sir. If there are two things I'd hope you might continue to grant me in the future, it is your time and respect."
French's voice was absent of mockery or malice. Kimble gave him the number, a suicide assistance line, and he could hear scratching as Wyatt dutifully wrote it down.
"Take care of yourself," Kimble told him. "Get dried out, get some rest. I'm worried about the way you're talking."
"What you should be worried about is that I'll choose to live forever. Then you'd really have your work cut out."
It was the first time any of Wyatt's traditional humor had showed, and Kimble let out a long breath, feeling as if the worst of this strange call was past.
"I've dealt with you for this long," he said. "Wouldn't be right not to keep at it."
"I appreciate the sentiment. And deputy? You be careful with her."
Kimble was silent, lips parted but jaw slack, and didn't realize he'd let his foot off the accelerator again until a minivan rose up into his mirror with an accompanying horn, then an extended middle finger from the driver who swerved around him. Kimble brought his speed back up and said, "Who do you mean, Wyatt?"
"The one you're going to see," Wyatt French told him. "Be very careful with her."
His voice had the low gravity of someone speaking at a wake. When Kimble finally got around to responding, offering up an awkward attempt at denial, he realized that the line was dead.
There was no time to call back from the highway, because the exit for the women's prison was just ahead, and Kimble had no desire to hear the old drunk's strange voice again anyhow. Let him sip his whiskey inside his damned lighthouse in the woods. Let his disturbed mind not infect Kimble's own.
He set the phone down and continued up to the prison gates.
A LONG, SINISTER BRICK STRUCTURE, the women's prison had been built back in 1891, a hundred and twenty years before it would house an inmate of interest to Kimble. Approved adults could begin arriving at 6 A.M., but the parking spaces were empty when he pulled in. Kimble was always the first one in the door. He liked to be alone in the visiting area, and he liked making the drive in the dark.
They checked him in with familiarity and a quiet "Morning, deputy" and then escorted him into the visitation room. He was afforded privileges here that others were not, a level of privacy and trust that others were not, because he was police. And because they all knew the story.
She was alone in the room, waiting for him at the other end of a plastic table, and when he saw her his breath caught and his heartbeat stuttered and he felt a fierce, cold ache low in his back.
"Jacqueline," he said.
She rose and offered her slim, elegant hand. Warm, gentle fingers in his cool, callused palm, and he found himself, as he always did when they touched, wetting his lips and looking to the side, as if something had moved in the shadows at the edge of the room.
"Hello, Kevin." She took her seat again, and he pulled up a plastic chair that screeched coming across the floor and sat beside her. Not all the way at the opposite end of the table, but not too close, either. Purgatory distance.
"Are you well?" he said.
Her voice took that distance between them and melted it like ice in a fist. It was so knowing, so intimate, she might as well have been sitting in his lap. The ache in his back pulsed.
"You look good. I mean… healthy."
Looked healthy. Shit. If all she looked was healthy, then there were starlets all over Hollywood who looked sickly. She was the kind of beautiful that scorched. Tall and lean, with gentle but clear curves even in the loose orange inmate garb, cocoa-colored hair that somehow held an expensive salon's sheen after five years of prison care, cheekbones and mouth sculpted with a master's touch. Full lips that looked dark against her complexion, which had once been deeply tanned but was now so white he could see the fine veins in her slender neck. Blue eyes that he could not, even after several years, meet for more than a few seconds.
"They treating you okay?"
"Yes, Kevin. As well as a place like this ever can treat someone."
Kevin. She said it in the sort of voice that should carry hot breath against your ear. Nobody called him Kevin. He was Kimble, had been since childhood, one of those boys who inexplicably becomes identified by his last name.
"Good," he said. He was staring at the floor to avoid her eyes, but now he saw that she had hitched those loose prison pants up slightly, so that her ankles were exposed above the thin sandals. Her ankles and a trace of legs. Long, sleek legs. She leaned back in the chair now and crossed her feet, pushing them closer toward him, which made him flush and lift his head.
"How is your back?" she said.
He was silent for a moment. His jaw worked, but he didn't speak, and this time he was able to meet her eyes.
"Fine," he said.
She smiled at him, rich and genuine, a smile you were never supposed to see in a place where faces were so often dark and threatening or unbalanced and psychotic.
"I'm so glad. I always worry, you know. I worry that it pains you."
"Yes," he said. "I know."
This was the game. This was the perfected exchange, performed each month as if they were rehearsing for some stage show and needed to keep sharp. Why did he drive up here? Why in the hell did he make these visits?
"I'm sorry, I don't remember," she said, and he wondered how many times he'd heard those five words now. First in a handwritten letter to him in the hospital, then in interview rooms, then at the trial and every visit that had been made since. She was always sorry that she didn't remember.
"You've told me, Jacqueline," he said, his voice stretched. "Let's not worry about that."
"You know how badly I wish I could, though. For you."
She smiled again, this time uncertainly. "I appreciate you making the trip. I always do."
"You've been so good to me. The one person above all others who shouldn't be, and you're the one person above all others who is."
"You don't belong in here," he said.
She sat up straighter then, sat up with excitement, and said, "Didn't they tell you I get to leave?"
He cocked his head and frowned. "Leave?"
"I thought for sure they'd tell you," she said. "I mean, I'm always sure they talk to you about me. Don't they?"
If there was one date Kimble knew absolutely, knew surer than Christmas or his own birthday, it was the scheduled parole hearing of Jacqueline Mathis. She was not leaving this prison. Not yet.
"Jacqueline, where are—"
"I've been approved for work release. It might not seem like much to you, but still… you can imagine how exciting it is for me. There's not much change around here."
"What? Where?" He was embarrassed by the evident concern—check that, evident fear—in his voice. He liked to know where she was. He needed to know.
"It's a thrift shop," she said. "Some little store just down the road. I don't care where or what, though—it's not in this place! I've made the petition three times. They finally approved it."
"Why did they now?"
"Because I'm so charming," she said, and laughed. He waited, and she said, "Oh, take off the cop eyes, Kevin."
She sat up straight now, dropped her voice into a low, formal tone.
"They approved me, officer, because I've shown myself to be nonthreatening and of sound mind and character."
He stared at her, rubbing one hand over his jaw. It wasn't an abnormal decision, not at this stage of her incarceration. They'd be readying her for release, assuming she made parole. She would make parole—there had been no problems and many were sympathetic to her—but that was still a year away. He had thought he had another year to get used to the idea of her being free. Why hadn't he thought of work release?
"So you're happy," he said finally, just to say something.
She laughed. "Of course I'm happy. You think I'd prefer to stay in here?"
"Probably not. Master of the understatement." She shook her head, then said, "I'll be working the mornings, though. That will change my visitation hours. I hope that wouldn't stop you, if you had to visit later in the day? I've always wondered if you're ashamed of me after the sun comes up."
"No, Jacqueline. It's just… well, you know, it's a long drive. If I come early, I beat the traffic."
"The Sawyer County traffic," she said. "Yes, that area around the courthouse gets pretty gridlocked for about two minutes each morning. Particularly now, with the students home for the holidays? Why, you might have to sit through one entire red light."
He didn't answer.
"You don't like the idea," she said. "Do you? Me being out of here, even for a few hours."
"That's not true," he said, and maybe it wasn't. Maybe he liked the idea an awful lot.
"Well, I like it," she said. "Out of these walls, out of these clothes. Do you know how long it's been since I wore something other than this?"
She grasped her orange shirt between her thumb and index finger and tugged it away from her body. He got a glimpse of her collarbone and below it smooth, flawless skin.
"You could drop by there sometime," she said. "You know—see me on the outside." She shifted her tone to a theatrical whisper and capped it off with a wink. He could feel his dick begin to stiffen, performing against his will, his own body laughing at him. He got to his feet abruptly, making his arousal evident.
"I've got to get started back," he said. "It's a long drive. Too long."
"Why are you leaving so early? Did I say something—"
"Be safe," he said, the same thing he always said, and walked to the door, using his hand to adjust himself within his pants, not wanting the attendant CO to see that development.
"I thought you would be happy for me. I thought if there was one person in the world who'd be happy for me, it would be you."
"I am happy for you, Jacqueline. Goodbye."
By the time the guards opened the door, he had his police eyes back.
It had been a long drive for a short visit. That was how it went with her. He could never stay too long.
Be careful with her, Wyatt French had told him.
Yeah, buddy. Listen to the old drunk. Watch your ass, Kimble.
Be very careful with her.
THE SAWYER COUNTY SENTINEL WAS at 122 years and counting when they shut it down. Peak circulation, 33,589. On the last day, they printed 10,000 copies. That was a bump, too, operating with an expectation that the locals would want their piece of history, so the Sentinel printed extras to make certain they could shake an ash out of the urn for everybody who wanted one.
The staff—nineteen members strong at the end, down from forty-eight at the start of Roy Darmus's career—blew the corks off a few bottles of champagne at five that afternoon and passed glasses around the newsroom and cried. Every last one of them. The editors, the reporters, the pressmen. Even J. D. Henry, the college intern, couldn't help it. He'd been with them all of two months, but there he was leaning on a desk and sipping champagne he wasn't old enough to drink legally and wiping tears from his eyes. Because they were a family, damn it, and it was a business that had spanned more than a century and told the stories of a community day by day and year by year longer than anyone alive could remember, and now it was gone. Who could be part of that and not cry?
When the champagne was gone, they'd all moved on to Roman's Tavern, had burgers and onion rings and pitchers of beer and told stories that had been told a hundred times before, treating each one like new material.
Sometime around midnight, as awkward silences were becoming more common than bursts of laughter, J. D. Henry commented on how strange it had been to look around the place and see all those empty desks.
"Weren't all empty," Donita Hadley said. She'd been writing obits for thirty years, and if there was anyone who wouldn't miss the details of a death, it was Donita. "Roy's got his work cut out for him yet."
How in the hell she'd known that, Roy couldn't say. He'd taken everything off the cubicle walls and cleared the surface of his desk, but he hadn't touched the drawers. Perhaps she'd opened them, snooping around. But somehow he knew that wasn't the case. Donita, she just understood.
"Really?" J.D. asked, the kid showing innocent surprise as he stared at Roy, everyone else suddenly finding other places for their eyes. They knew what the intern didn't; this was a loss for them all, but a touch more personal for Roy. He'd grown up at the paper. Literally. Had started drifting in as a kid, shoving stories onto the editor's desk. After his parents were killed in a car accident and he'd gone to live with his grandmother, the staff essentially adopted him. His first paid job was culling the morgue files for a column called "Local Lore," two-sentence recollections of the headline stories that had run twenty-five, fifty, and seventy-five years earlier. He worked his way through college at the paper, took a full-time job immediately after graduating, and never left. There were those who'd been around longer, but nobody had spent a greater percentage of life inside the Sentinel's newsroom than Roy Darmus.
"Why haven't you cleared out yet?" J.D. asked.
"Lot of shit in those drawers," Roy mumbled. "Been procrastinating. You know me, always past deadline."
The truth was, he had to be alone for it. Not just alone—he had to be the last man standing. Captain of the sinking ship.
That seemed to satisfy everyone except Donita. Her eyes stayed on him for a long moment, and then Roy suggested they have another round, and the response was a collective hemming and hawing. The night had gone on too long for most now—they were an older crowd, J.D. excepted, and it had been a draining day. People began to reach for wallets, but Mike Webb, the editor, insisted he was putting it on the company tab, saying that if the owners didn't like it, they could shut the place down.
That joke landed as smoothly as a buffalo coming off a balance beam, but hell, at least the drinks were free.
Everyone walked down the steps and out into the night. December, the town aglow with Christmas lights, air biting with cold wind driven out of the Appalachian foothills, the season, quite appropriately, of death. The course had been charted nine years earlier, when a newspaper that had been family-owned since its creation sold out to a national chain. The cuts began almost immediately—first pages, then staff. There had been talk of a Web-only product for a time, but this rural Kentucky community wasn't viewed as a potential profit center, despite more than a century of profit, and eventually the terminal diagnosis was issued.
Outside of Roman's, the last of the crew shared hugs and handshakes and went off to their cars and the rest of their lives, promising to keep in touch in the way kids did at graduations, firmly and incorrectly believing it would actually happen.
That was supposed to be the last of it, the final rites administered, but Roy was back the next afternoon. He preferred to shut it down in private. It was home in a way your office never really should be, and that afternoon, when he went in alone, the building was so silent it made him feel unsteady. Newsrooms were never quiet, were always filled with a humming, delightful energy, sometimes chaotic, sometimes somber, but always present.
Today, it had all the energy of a crypt.
He had five drawers to empty—three in the desk, two in the file cabinet. It was very much like sorting through a loved one's belongings after a funeral.
The first thing to go into the recycling bin was his tips folder. He flipped it open and saw notes jotted on scraps of paper and backs of menus and napkins: Brandon Tyler taught his blind brother to throw a tomahawk; astronomy club planning event for lunar eclipse; Evelyn Scott won national cookie recipe competition…
And so on. Stories of local people and local interest. He looked at them now, feeling sorrow because their forum was gone. Determined not to wallow in that sorrow, Roy went through the crank file next, knowing it would demand a smile. It was in the bottom right-hand desk drawer, a good five inches thick, jammed with letters. He opened it up and began to read through them, and, as he'd hoped, couldn't help but smile. There was the savage critique of his story judgment from a woman who wanted to let the public know that she and her husband had caught the exact same smallmouth bass on the exact same day, and just what was the matter with him that he didn't think people would be interested in that? There was the collection of letters from a group of neighbors who had recorded sightings of a sasquatch—well, it was probably a sasquatch but potentially a wolf capable of walking on its hind legs, which was twice as alarming, didn't he think? There was a note from a woman who was certain her neighbor was breaking into her house to use her Jacuzzi and asserted that she had the pubic hair to prove it, and the allegation that the mayor had been sighted in Maloney Park in carnal embrace with a sheep.
He remembered them all, remembered sharing them with Donita or Laura or Stewart and sharing laughs. There would be no more crank letters here, there would be no more laughs. The smile gone from his face, he set the folder on top of his desk with a sigh and walked all the way into the break room in search of coffee, pulling up short when he saw the pot was gone. Right. He turned on his heel, and had just settled back down at his desk when the phone rang.
It was startlingly loud in the empty newsroom, which was going dark as the stormy day faded to night. Roy picked it up and said hello.
"Mr. Darmus. This is Wyatt French."
"Oh. Hot-tip time?"
Old Wyatt was a well-known figure to those in the newsroom and those in the liquor business. He didn't appear to intersect with much else, just booze and bizarre news. Roy had written about the old man's lighthouse once, and apparently Wyatt had appreciated the tenor of the piece, because he'd taken to calling every so often with what he referred to as "hot tips." They generally involved police misconduct or local bars that served watered-down bourbon. Lately the calls had been focused on the pending relocation of an exotic-cat rescue center to his isolated stretch of the woods. Wyatt did not approve of the facility, at least not across from his home. Today he'd either missed the fact that the newspaper was no longer in business or he was too drunk to remember.
"Mr. Darmus, I wanted to tell you… wanted to ask that you…"
"Buddy, we're out of the tip business, I'm afraid," Roy said, smiling, but then the smile faded when he heard French's ragged breathing.
- "The Ridge is a classic ghost story, penned by a master. I couldn't put it down, even though I almost screamed when the wind blew a branch against the tree outside my study. Yes, it's that scary."—Stephen King
- "Somehow, Michael Koryta gets better with every book, no small feat considering the quality of those he's already written. Here's a writer for the new century, one to read, admire and, yes, envy."—Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
- "An eerie tale... a dark and compulsively readable story...Reading The Ridge is a fine way to chill down a hot summer night. But you'll want to leave the lights on."—Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
- "A rural Kentucky community becomes the unlikely focal point for a series of enigmatic and terrifying events in Koryta's subtle supernatural thriller...Koryta matches an original and complex plot line with prose full of understated menace."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "A freshly imagined and elegantly constructed variation on the dead-of-night ghost story.... [an] eerie tale... readers are swept along by Koryta's narrative voice, which is surprisingly soft and low and poetically insinuating."—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
- "A man in love with the woman who shot him. Who could possibly resist that story? Not me. Read on, and discover one of the scariest and most touching horror tales in years."—James Patterson
- "From page one of The Ridge, Michael Koryta has the reader leaning forward, racing down the page, driving deeper and deeper into his creepy, pulpy tale to find out what bad thing is going to happen next. As in So Cold the River, Koryta delivers a midwestern ghost story based on place--another roadside attraction from his haunted heartland. Reader, heed my advice: hold his hand tight. You don't want to get caught out here alone in the woods, in the night, in the dark."—Stewart O'Nan, author of Emily, Alone
- "Koryta delivers another supernatural thriller with punch....Part ghost story, part murder mystery, all thriller, this fast-paced and engaging read will have readers leaving the night-light on long after they have finished the book."—Library Journal (starred review)
- "[An] intense novel that has a touch of Stephen King thrown in for good measure... A chilling story that will have you burning the midnight oil and wishing you had a lighthouse to ward off any dark presence around you."—Jackie K. Cooper, The Huffington Post
- On Sale
- Oct 27, 2015
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Little, Brown and Company