Michael Koryta pens near perfect summer thriller

Teenage murder witness takes refuge in Montana mountains in ‘‍Those Who Wish Me Dead’


It’s appropriate that the characters in Michael Koryta’s latest novel spend a lot of time on a summit in the Montana wilderness because he is at the top of his game.

Even though Koryta is just 31, Those Who Wish Me Dead is his 10th novel and best work to date.

Koryta first drew me into his work with the Lincoln Perry private eye series because it was based in Cleveland. He had me hooked with his standalone novel Envy the Night, which also involved many staples of the P.I. genre. Then he took a left turn and wrote three best-selling, supernatural thrillers with The Cypress House being the highlight.

In 2012, he stepped away from the supernatural to remind us that the natural world has plenty of its own perils and horrors to be menacing in The Prophet.

The best elements from Koryta’s previous work set aflame the pages of Those Who Wish Me Dead. A strong cast of likable characters with strong back stories make the reader care about each one’s survival. They wisely never take a backseat to the raging forest fire, which was set by the evil Blackwell brothers, whose dialogue is gleefully creepy.

The book’s main protagonist, Ethan Serbin, is a professional outdoor survival instructor. In the summers, he runs a training program for troubled teens in the southwest Montana mountains. This year, one of the boys is a witness to a murder by a pair of relentless and dangerous killers, who don’t like to leave loose ends.

Serbin’s father taught him long ago that there are two types of people: the killing kind and the dying kind. Serbin never agreed with him, insisting there was a third option: the surviving kind. That belief will be tested as Serbin is tasked to protect the teenage witness.

Jace Wilson is given a new identity, figuring he would be safely off the grid in the backwoods far away from cell phones and computers. His parents also hope that he picks up some useful endurance tips while in the care of Serbin and his wife, Allison, who also proves to be just as resilient as her husband. We find out right away which category Allison fits in.

Hannah Farber is a forest firefighter haunted by a deadly mistake that was responsible for the death of a young boy. Now, Hannah applies her trade from safer confines and gets a chance to help another youngster in trouble.

The book is strictly thriller fare as there are no hidden stories or greater lessons to be learned here. It’s obviously well researched with enough twists and turns to rival the myriad switchbacks of the Montana mountainside. The last several chapters are so well paced and superbly plotted it makes Those Who Wish Me Dead, as summer reads go, too hot to put down.

Contact Bob Cunningham at bcunningham@theblade.com or 419-724-6506.