Reading Scott Carson’s The Chill gave me shivers like the ones I got when I first read Stephen King’s The Shining. Set in a remote town in upstate New York, the novel starts ordinarily enough, with a fractured relationship between father and son, but swiftly cascades into a story about vengeful ghosts and a cataclysm generations in the making.
Carson, a pseudonymous bestselling author and screenwriter, homes tightly in on Aaron Ellsworth, a 20-something washed-up Coast Guard rescue diver whose preference for drugs and booze has drawn the continued ire of his father. Angered after an argument, Aaron seeks solace by taking a swim in the Chilewaukee Reservoir amid a downpour. When he accidentally injures a state inspector, Aaron dives into the chill waters to rescue him, only to find the skeleton of another person entwined in the wreckage beneath the dam. But when Aaron calls his father to admit what he’s done, the inspector reappears with no sign of injury and no memory of his encounter with Aaron.
Aaron soon learns of a bizarre story about the body found underwater and the people who sacrificed themselves when the dam and reservoir were created, flooding the town of Galesburg. While Aaron tries to piece together the story, the ghostly spirits begin their own quest for vengeance on those who condemned their town to destruction by ushering in the collapse of the dam itself. Between confrontations with the dead and the impending break in the dam, Carson ably and exponentially ramps up the intrigue and danger.
Carson includes plenty of factual exposition about real New York reservoirs and tunnel systems, sections that could have been dry and boring were it not for his deep characterizations and a pervading sense of doom. The result is a fast-paced, frenzied tale of survival against both natural and supernatural forces that will leave you gasping for air.
Editor’s note: Scott Carson is a pseudonym for Michael Koryta.