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The Cypress House (2011)


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Published: New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2011
Edition:  1st ed
Description:  426 p. ; 25 cm
ISBN/ISSN: 9780316053723 (hbk.), 0316053724 (hbk.),
Language:  English

Includes an excerpt from The ridge

When Arlen Wagner awakens on a train one hot Florida night and sees death's telltale sign in the eyes of his fellow passengers, he tries to warn them. Only 19-year-old Paul Brickhill believes him, and the two abandon the train, hoping to escape certain death. They continue south, but are soon stranded at the Cypress House--an isolated Gulf Coast boarding house run by the beautiful Rebecca Cady--directly in the path of an approaching hurricane. But the storm isn't the only approaching danger

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The Cypress House

Imagine looking past cottonwood trees out at the Gulf of Mexico through flimsy gauze.  The air is salty, the waves are commanding, and the entire atmosphere is sweaty and thick with insects.

This is the feeling you get reading Koryta's new novel that takes place on the coast of Florida in the mid 1930's.  Depression has taken its toll on the post-WW I veterans who are forced to seek labor in work camps throughout the country.  Arlen Wagner is one of those ex-Marines who is struggling to survive.

Arlen's struggles are compounded because he has a special gift or curse.  He can look a person in the eyes and see their death.  While  train traveling with his naive co-worker, young Paul Brickhill, arlen sees death in all of his fellow passengers and quickly convinces Paul to exit the train with him.

Their sudden exit leaves them alive to survive the horrific train crash down the rail, but stranded in a remote region with little resources.  They hitchhike with a shady stranger who takes them to the Cypress House and introduces them to the lovely and mysterious Rebecca Cady, owner of the hotel/bar.

A hurricane is brewing and the two travelers must take shelter with Rebecca.  Their transporter, Walt Sorenson, is suddenly killed and both innocent men are arrested by the corrupt local Sheriff.  They are tortured in their holding cells by order of an evil, powerful politician, Wade Solomon. 

Solomon has far-reaching control over all the citizens in his territory and is the county's sole contender for Crime-Boss-of-the-Year.  The Cypress House is the center of Solomon's smuggling operation and he has Rebecca's world held ransom.    The new travelers are not welcomed and viewed an interruption to his smooth running operation.  It doesn't help matters that Paul falls madly in love with Rebecca and Arlen sees death in his ward's eyes every time Solomon is nearby.

What follows is a slow-paced, Southern story that meticulously builds towards a powerful ending.

The Cypress House

Although classified as a mystery, there is a paranormal element to this story.  We meet Arlen Wagner in 1935 traveling on a train to a work camp with a group of men.  Quickly we find out that he has an ability to see death before it happens.  He is only able to convince one of the men, Paul, to get off of the train when they stop to take on fuel.  A stranger named Wade befriends them by giving them a ride south.  They stop at the Cypress House, a small hotel in Florida on the Gulf side where Wade has business to take care of with the owner.  The trouble begins right away when their car parked outside the hotel explodes with Wade inside.  Arlen and Paul find themselves arrested.  Corruption and power among the locals in this county plays a big role.  The two main characters are caught in the middle of it all with no way of knowing who to trust.

The mystery develops with suspense and the sense something terrible will happen paralleling the hurricane bearing down on the region.  The paranormal ability of Arlen continues to develop as well as conflict between himself, Paul and the owner of the Cypress House.  I do not usually read this type of fiction but the story was compelling.  The supernatural aspect was told in a way that was plausible enough so that I was able to suspend disbelief to find the book worth reading.

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