When they located the dog's body under the snow high in the mountains of Colorado, the last thought on their minds was of any kind of spring. And when the bodies of the man and woman they believed to be the dog's masters were discovered nearby, the genre of the lawyer-science fiction novel sprang forth from the mind of Clifford Irving.
Dennis Conway took a vacation that would last a lifetime or maybe two when the New York criminal lawyer left his hectic practice for a week of skiing in the Aspen Mountains of Colorado. He left his two children behind. They were to be cared for by friends rather than by their mother, whom Dennis had divorced when she found a drug habit more important to her than her children and husband—or even her own life.
The downhill runs were exciting, and Dennis pushed the speed and his ability to their limit right before his leg gave way, he lost control and took a fall that led him to another life in a place different than he ever could have imagined. The beautiful woman who pulled him from the snow and helped him down the mountain was from Springhill, Colo. Sophie Henderson had been born there and her father was a retired lawyer in that small town for which she now served as mayor. Dennis knew he was interested in her in a way he had not been interested in a woman for a long time. He struggled against falling for her. Nevertheless, he asked her out and she agreed.
At the end of the week, when Dennis left Colorado to return to his life in New York, he could not get Sophie out of his mind, and she also found herself lost in the memories of their time together. Two weeks later he missed her so much that he flew back to Colorado and stayed in her cabin in Springhill. He met her family, and she came to visit in New York. During one of his visits to Colorado it became clear to both of them that they would marry, so Dennis made arrangements to join the law firm of a friend of his in Aspen. Shortly thereafter, he moved his children to Springhill where Sophie's cabin became the family home.
So far, the novel appears to be routine—a simple love story. After Dennis moves to Springhill, however, he learns that the townspeople have very strange customs, a language or dialect all their own and very few elderly people. He is wandering in the woods one night when he finds himself near the home of his parents-in-law. They are having a party in a hot tub and engaging in behavior some might consider unusual for married people. The next day, one of the guests is dead.
The burial ceremony raises questions with Dennis and he asks Sophie to explain what was going on. She mysteriously puts him off, saying explanations would have to wait. In the meantime, the dog that is found buried on the mountain is identified and the couple buried nearby is tentatively identified as the dog's owners. The deaths are determined to be the result of murder by injection of drugs. The real problem arises when a silver pillbox owned by Dennis's mother-in-law is found near the bodies.
Dennis reluctantly agrees to defend his mother-in-law, proving her innocence to the jury while proving her guilt to himself. In the process of dealing with the reasons for her guilt, Dennis learns about the spring. Springhill keeps the natural hot water spring under lock and key because of qualities that make it invaluable. It is so valuable, each town member is sworn to secrecy and the oath of secrecy is strictly enforced.
What is the value of the spring, and why does it call for secret ceremonies that eventually result in the unnatural deaths of town members? That is the mystery that awaits the reader of this novel—a novel that is well-written and unique in its storyline. The tale raises questions of situational ethics and absolutism, which make it more substantive than one meant entirely for entertainment. The substance, however, is presented in such a subtle way it can be overlooked easily.
To really immerse yourself in the deeper relevance of the story, you have to consider the spring and how it grew from a recreational marvel to an initially life-prolonging, but ultimately life-ending force. The title is not catchy, but The Spring itself becomes moral quicksand for all who read and wonder whether basking in the warm water raises eternal questions whose answers are all too often ignored—with death as the result. It still may not be safe to go into the water. You decide.