>> Monday, January 24, 2011
The Cypress House by Michael Koryta
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: 2010
Source: eGalley provided by publisher through NetGalley
The Short Version:
Tension and suspense gradually build and combine with a tinge of the supernatural in an isolated Florida gulf coast setting.
Why I Read It:
I’ve enjoyed the first few of the author’s Lincoln Perry mystery series and heard good things about his stand alone novels so when I had the opportunity to read this one I jumped at the chance.
In 1935 a train headed for Key West, Florida carries a group of CCC workers headed to work on a railroad. Arlen Wagner is one of these men. A veteran of WW1, he can tell when death is near for people. In the dark, they appear to him as skeletons and in the light their eyes are replaced with swirling smoke. When he looks around the railroad car and sees death in the eyes of all the men, he knows he must get off the train at the next stop. Only young Paul Brickhill joins him in not returning to the train.
Stuck without a way to get to their initial or any other destination they end up hitching a ride. Soon they find themselves at an oddly isolated and empty fishing resort called The Cypress House. Its owner is the beautiful and mysterious Rebecca Cady. They soon discover that this strange area of Florida is under the control of a corrupt judge and his cronies.
Questioned regarding a murder they did not commit and then released but broke, they stay to help Rebecca prepare Cypress House for a coming hurricane. After the storm blows through, the trouble just keeps brewing and boiling into a tension filled brutal finish.
Well first of all, don’t get to the last 100 pages or so late in the evening. If you do, you’ll be up into the wee hours finishing it. The gradual building of tension and suspense starts in the first few pages and by the final scenes I was dreading the end of my lunch hour and the end of my train ride and the need to get to knitting class because they all made me have to stop reading.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way the author built the sense of place as much as he did the mood in the story. I could almost feel the dampness and humidity and the stormy weather as I read. The supernatural stuff was just enough to make the story really spooky without being too overpowering. It added to the story without being too much and would not keep me from recommending it to people who aren't necessarily fans of supernatural books.
As I read the story I could visualize it as a black and white movie in my head with the palms and mangroves blown by the storms in the background of most of the scenes. Perhaps the depression era setting enhanced that mood for me. The good guys are struggling to survive when jobs are hard to come by and just surviving is the primary occupation of most of the population. Add to that a small isolated town and corrupt officials and thugs and you’ve got a no win situation that gets more and more complex as the pages turn. The bad guys are really bad and it’s difficult to tell if there are any good guys most of the way through the story.
Arlen Wagner’s struggles with his unwanted ability and the demons of his past are hauntingly told at the same time he battles the very real demons of the present and tries to protect a friend.
This is an excellent standalone suspense story. I highly recommend it and I must read the rest of Koryta’s books just as soon as I can.