The Cypress House, by Michael Koryta – Book Review

I have come to view Michael Koryta’s supernatural/mystery stand-alone novels as a litmus test. Several friends have read all three books, and there are a variety of opinions about which gets the vote as favorite. I would love to chart where we were in our lives, and what we were responding to when we read these books. It always makes for fascinating conversation when we discuss the ins and outs of what we like about each and why it’s the best. I am in the clear minority with loving The Cypress House the most out of all the books. So whatever that might mean, there you go.

The Cypress House is about Arlen Wagner. Arlen is a worker at the Civilian Conservation Corp circa 1935. He has the burdensome talent of being able to spot when someone is about to die- he sees smoke in their eyes. On the way to the Florida Keys for a work project, Arlen looks around his railway car and notices that everyone has smoke in their eyes, but when they stop for a break he is unable to convince the men not to re-board the train. Arlen flees with the only person who heeds his warning, 19-year-old Paul Brickell.  Death, however, is not finished with them, and follows them to an old hotel on the Gulf Coast, and a woman named Rebecca Cady, who needs more help than she will accept. When they tangle with a corrupt judge, his fearsome cohorts, and a dangerous storm, it is hard to know who will make it out alive.

Koryta manages to balance chills and tension-filled suspense throughout this story of a man who has spent his life on the run, afraid of not only what he can do, but also of the barely contained guilt he feels over the death of his father. Overcoming his demons have serious ramifications in his attempts helping the love smitten Paul come to the aid of cool, collected Rebecca. Strong characterizations, rich sense of place, a balanced and integrated plot with a hint of an uneasy love triangle makes The Cypress House one of my near perfect reads of 2011. Highly Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson   Book Review

Review Copy.

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  1. Like you, I also think it is good to know the circumstances in life when you liked/ disliked a book. Sometimes it has a lot to do 🙂

    I haven’t read any of the books in this series, I guess I will get to them because this one sounds good.

    1. Sometimes it’s not the book but the person. I wonder a lot if I were to go back and read different books whether I would like them or not. So mush depends on the space you are in.

  2. Well, I’m happy to tell you that of the three Koryta books, this one was my favorite too. It’s not that I didn’t like the others (I mean hell, I’ve been to the West Baden Resort in French Lick, and I love lighthouses) but there were very small tiny characterization issues with them. This book, was perfect. Perfect balance of a fascinating piece of history in the hurricane, gritty damaged kick ass characters, a little supernatural and heart-attack inducing tension.

    1. Yes! You are my Koryta soul mate. Everyone loves So Cold The River, which was the weakest book for me. I am glad that I was urged to try the next one, because I was rather “meh” at that point.

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Michael Koryta’s books. I agree with you that they suspend disbelief, but I (for some reason) never have trouble with it. He always makes me believe that this stuff is really happening. I think he has a great writing style.

    I also recommend listening to his work on audio. The reader is growing on me, and I seem to get more interested in the suspense.

    1. I’ll have too try one of his next books on audio, even though I don’t think it will be one of the supernatural mysteries that I love.

  4. This is a book that I have on my shelf and have heard wonderful things about. I also have wondered if it was more a tale of the supernatural or a magical realism bent that allows the main character to see the smoke. I have also heard that his other work is fantastic as well. I am so glad to hear that this was a favorite of yours, as I have been looking for something to totally engage me, and your recommendation for this book has totally swayed me. Fantastic review, by the way!

    1. I love it! I was glad to see that of the three it is Sandy’s favorite too. I would put it down more for supernatural than magical realism.

  5. I have not read any of his books but am hearing how good they all are! And I actually know more people who really liked this so when I first read that you were in the minority I thought you were going to say you didn’t like this one, LOL. Ahh, so many books to read but I do think I need to keep this at the top of the list.