THE CYPRESS HOUSE by Michael Koryta

The Cypress House was the first novel I’ve read of Michael Koryta, and I think I’d pick up another one… I think. I literally just finished this, and perhaps reviewing it so soon won’t do it the justice I think it deserves. It was strange, unusual, and altogether different from anything I’ve read in a long time. And I liked it! It definitely doesn’t fit the mould of a ‘whodunit’ as so many of my previous reviews do, but it is an exciting thriller with just enough supernatural to make it enjoyable without being over the top.

The basic premise is what I loved most – Arlen Wagner can see death. Let me elaborate. The year is 1935 and Wagner is a WWI veteran who works on construction projects. His father, an undertaker, was thought to be insane over his belief that he could communicate with the dead. But now Arlen has his own dark skills, and is able to see death manifest itself in the soon-to-be-dead. One would imagine such a skill would be incredibly sobering during the war years, and Arlen does his best to avoid it. However, on a train one night, he looks around to see death in the eyes of all his fellow passengers. Bound for Florida Keys and unbeknownst to the men, they are travelling around the time of the infamous Labour Day hurricane that killed over 400 people. Arlen tries to warn his fellow passengers, but only himself and a young man named Paul Brickhill refuse to re-board the train.

They stumble out of harms way (albeit temporarily) and into the corruption of Depression-era Corridor County. A man, Walt Sorenson, takes a chance on the two of them, and the find themselves at an eerily remote inn, Cypress House, and in the presence of its beautiful but mysterious owner, Rebecca. Witness to a horrific crime, Arlen and Paul are thrown into a dark and shady world of corruption and cover up, where people in post-prohibition times are doing their best to survive… at a terribly high price for those around them. Surprises and unexpected plot twists await, with a final act worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster or a top-10 bestselling novel.

The Cypress House, while not your typical crime novel, is full of grizzly murders and more than enough bloodshed, making it feel like one. Add to it a constant feeling of suspense mixed with dread, and this novel will keep you up all night; all the while sending chills down your spine at the horror of how far some people will go to for power, money and glory. The characters are both likeable yet flawed, and Koryta rivals my personal favourite Stephen King for showing how rotten humans can become when they are given extreme amounts of power. Loathing the locals becomes easy, and the reader will find themselves cheering on our protagonists as they try and bring some much-needed justice to the people of Corridor County. All in all, I finished this 415 gem in a small number of days, and I urge you to pick it up and do the same.

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