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.