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Onyx reviews: Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 8/5/2016

The primary setting for Michael Koryta's electrifying new thriller, Rise the Dark, couldn't be more different from that of its predecessor, Last Words. Most of the previous book took place in utter darkness, in caves in Garrison, Indiana, whereas the current book brings protagonist Mark Novak, after a brief detour to Florida, to the wide open Big Sky country of Montana and Wyoming, which Koryta last visited in Those Who Wish Me Dead. Last Words focused on the expertise of spelunkers exploring far underground, whereas Rise the Dark features a man who risks his life working at dizzying heights on potentially lethal high tension power lines.

Rise the Dark can be read as a standalone thriller: Everything readers need to know about Novak's past is revealed in this volume. The most salient detail is the fact that his wife Lauren was murdered in Cassadaga, Florida, an enclave for psychics. She was there to interview a witness in a case, a task originally assigned to Novak that Lauren correctly believed he wouldn't have taken seriously, to the investigation's detriment. Novak has a long history with fake psychics that has left him jaded and skeptical. Now, he blames himself for putting her in harm's way. 

Garland Webb, the man who he believes is responsible for her murder, has just been released from prison on unrelated sexual assault charges, due to prosecutorial errors, and his first act upon gaining his freedom is to taunt Novak. Novak is no longer working for Innocence Incorporated, so he has all the time in the world to focus his private investigator's skills on bringing Lauren's killer to justice. He has few clues other than a cryptic annotation in her notebook: Rise the Dark. 

After a harrowing encounter in Florida that he barely escapes with his life, Novak joins forces with Lynn Deschaine, a Pinkerton detective, to follow the trail of Webb and his associates to Montana. Novak is very familiar with the territory—he grew up there with his now-estranged mother, Violet, and her kin. The investigation puts Novak back in touch with his sharpshooter uncle, Larry, after he learns that his mother is tangled up with the group Webb belongs to, acting as a recruiter.

Webb is not the ringleader of the gang Novak is trailing—he's a minion of Eli Pate, the head of a homegrown terrorist cult, described as Charles Manson with the mind of Nikola Tesla. He is determined to destroy the electrical grid and thereby bring the United States to its knees. Pate has kidnapped the wife of Jay Baldwin, a former member of an elite barehanding high-voltage line repair crew, to coerce him into doing the technical work required to bring about their goals. Because of a previous incident on a transmission tower, Baldwin has lost his nerve for working around high voltage lines, so he has to confront his worst fears if he is to save his wife's life. These scenes are every bit as harrowing as the subterranean scenes from Last Words. Koryta spreads the heroism around in this book: several characters rise to the occasion to battle the terrorists.

Koryta takes a different and innovative approach to the conspiracy thriller. Usually, the nefarious plot is discovered and the protagonists work to foil the terrorists. Here, Novak stumbles upon the domestic terrorists in the course of hunting for his wife's killer. Deschaine, who is more than she at first appears, is more attuned to the possibility of a terrorist act, but has no first-hand knowledge of their specific plans. She is suspicious of Novak because of his ties to Violet, but agrees to work with him to exploit his insight into some of the suspects. 

However, Koryta does not provide a tidy resolution to the terrorist plot, laying the groundwork for a highly anticipated follow-up novel. Everyone's best efforts are sometimes not enough. Novak has more information about his personal background that he might choose to pursue, and there is also a hint that the putative psychic powers that were a part of his childhood might have a basis in reality, which could allow Kortya to go in a completely different direction with the sequel to Rise the Dark.

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