All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Cypress House – Michael Koryta

on November 18, 2010

Michael Koryta is an author who has been on my radar for a little while now after coming to my attention with his last release, So Cold The River which is now on my TBR list. Koryta is my age (28) and  his first novel was published when he was just 21. The Cypress House will be his seventh novel, which is quite an impressive achievement! When I saw this latest title listed on NetGalley, I snapped it up as I was very keen to get a look at his work and due to being on holidays, all I have with me to read are those novels on my Kindle.

The Cypress House opens on a train. Arlen Wagner, a verteran of the great War is dozing as the train makes its way towards Florida where he and a bunch of other men, all veterans and construction types bar one, are on their way to pick up more work on CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) projects down in that state. As the train passes over the border into northern Florida, Wagner notices that one of the man’s hand has turned to skeleton.

Wagner has a rare and strange gift in that he can see death before it touches. He may shun his gift, but he can’t ignore it. And when Wagner sees flesh fall away and leave just bone, and if he looks into eyes and sees nothing but whorls of grey smoke, he knows that person is not long for this world. Occasionally, if he has enough warning, he can change the circumstances and death can be escaped. That’s if he has an idea what might cause the death and enough time to avoid it. On this train, hurtling through Florida, he sees not just one man turn to skeleton and smoke, but all of them. Including the only non-veteran in their company, 19yo Paul Brickhill.

There’s only one explanation for that sort of mass death impending – the train is going to wreck. As the train slows to a stop to refuel and the men get out and stretch their legs, Wagner makes a decision. He tells everyone, when they’re off on the platform stretching their legs, that they can’t get back on. He can’t say why, he knows no one would believe him anyway, but he tries his hardest to convince all the men to stay off the train, get the next one. They ridicule him of course, tell him he’s had too much liquor, or he’s not right in the head. When the train pulls out of the station, only one man is left standing there with him: Paul Brickhill.

Wagner thinks they are safe. There isn’t another train until the next day and they are picked up walking their way to the local boarding house by the mysterious Walt Sorenson, a friendly type who promises to drive them down into the Keys or wherever they want to go, he just has to make a few stops first. It’s their last stop, at The Cypress House, where what looks like a lucky avoidance of death, turns into something far more sinister and complicated than just the possibility of their train de-railing.

The Cypress House is a very isolated boarding house run by the beautiful but distant Rebecca Cady, who Walt has stopped in to do business with. When Walt’s car blows skyward, presumably with Walt inside it, Arlen and Paul are sucked into this corrupt county of the Gulf. They are questioned, assaulted, threatened and treated suspiciously by the villainous sherriff and the even more villainous county judge. All is not as it seems here and as they are finally released back to The Cypress House and a hurricane sweeps in, it takes precisely that length of time for Paul Brickhill to decide he cannot leave Rebecca. When the raging wind and driving rain and rising seas finally retreat, he vows to stay on to help her do the repairs to The Cypress House and stay on forever, if only she will let him.

Fearing for Paul in this crooked and ominous feeling county, Wagner knows he cannot leave the boy here behind and he is resigned to staying on also. It could be the worst decision they make – already on the radar of the local Sherriff and judge, plus their hired help, it doesn’t take Wagner long to figure out that something very wrong is going on here. Rebecca is up to her neck in it, although seemingly unwillingly. Wagner is determined to find a way out, for all of them. Even if that means hurting at least one of them.

This was quite a read! I started it on the plane coming up here and it made the hour journey pass even quicker than normal! Right from the first line you are drawn in, the fate of the men on the train working its way into your mind and staying there. I thought the book might focus more on what happens to the men who refuse to get off the train, and maybe Wagner having to explain himself a little more but it takes you in an entirely new direction. We are taken to The Cypress House and Rebecca Cady and the evil that lurks there, which is described by more than one character in the novel as a ‘sickness’.

Slowly, little by little, we learn the hold that the judge has on this county, those who are in his employ and what they do and what they expect of Rebecca. This novel was driven by plot development, rather than character and we learn very little about the main characters, other than a few peices here and there that has helped shape them into the sort of adults they are. Emotions are few and far between and characters seem to deal with everything this novel throws at them with a kind of grim, blank determination. Despite this, I found Wagner extremely easy to like, and Brickhill also. Rebecca was less likable at first, and I never really came to love her as a character, or see what both Wagner and Brickhill saw in her, but then again, I’m not male. And maybe it takes a male to fully appreciate what Rebecca has!

Set during the depression era, I think the backdrop was almost my favourite part of the book. Where men worked for a month for $35 pay, where mothers at home collected half of their sons paycheques, where some counties are still considered ‘dry’ and bootlegging alcohol is still taking place. The physical setting, the Gulf down in Florida, was vivid and real – the hurricane that sweeps in when Wagner and Brickhill are released from the jail is a violent and devastating one, causing a death toll of six figures or more, with half the Keys and the location they were originally aiming for swept away almost to nothing. Then there are the descriptions of the heat, the swamps, the isolation of the boarding house itself. It felt like I was sitting there watching everything taking place in front of me.

Although the were a few slow spots in the middle of this book, the ending really makes up for it – suspense in spades and I was reading so quickly half the time I was fogetting that I was reading on my Kindle and I kept trying to turn pages, rather than press the button! I couldn’t see how I could possibly get the ending I wanted, the way things were going. If you like supernatural suspense, then definitely give this novel a try – it’s well worth it. Koryta has a great imagination and a great style of writing that is incredibly easy to devour and there’s so much more wound into the supernatural part.  I really cannot wait to read So Cold The River Now – it’s been bumped up to #1 for when I get back!


Book #93 of my 100 Book Challenge

This book also qualifies for my What’s In A Name3? Challenge this year. It’s been quite a while since I completed a book for this challenge but this one satisfies criteria # 4 – Read a book with a plant in the title. 3 criteria completed, 3 to go before December 31! Hope I can make it!

****I received this novel as an eGalley from the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Cypress House will be published on the 24th January 2011 by Little, Brown & Company – an imprint of the Hatchette Book Group


2 responses to “The Cypress House – Michael Koryta

  1. […] All The Books I Can Read by 1girl2manybooks – “The Cypress House – Michael Koryta“ […]

  2. This sounds fabulous!! I’ve not come across this author before, but I’m fascinated with this type of subject matter, so I’ll definitely be including this on my wish list.

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