Friday, January 28, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Cypress House

     The Cypress House was released this week by Little, Brown. It is author
Michael Koryta's seventh book, and his second book that takes a trip into the paranormal. The Cypress House is set in Florida in 1935. Protagonist Arlen Wagner has a special gift: if a person is about to die, Arlen can see it, first in the eyes, then the flesh. And Arlen has seen it plenty, serving in World War I and fighting in the Battle of the Belleau Wood. After the war, Arlen returned to the states and, in an effort to stay as far away from his former home in West Virginia as possible, worked for the Civilian Conservation Corp, a public relief effort during the depression.
     While on the way with the CCC to the Florida Keys to work on a bridge project, Arlen saw death in the eyes of those on the train. He tried to warn the others, but only one, a young man from New Jersey named Paul Brickhill, would listen, and stayed behind with Arlen. The two found their way with Walter Sorensen, who met an untimely death when his car exploded outside the Cypress House. Arlen, Paul, and Rebecca Cady, the beautiful and mysterious proprietor of the Cypress House, were now under a veil of suspicion. The local sheriff and judge were not too pleased that Arlen and Paul were mixing with the affairs of their county, which suited Arlen just fine. But Paul would not leave, smitten with Rebecca Cady. The longer they stayed, Ms. Cady's problems became Arlen's, until he could not separate himself from her or the Cypress House until they were solved.
     Mr. Koryta uses his gift of storytelling masterfully, creating for readers a good sense of Florida in 1935 and, perhaps even more difficult, letting readers inside the minds of Arlen, Paul, and Rebecca.
     I'm not usually a fan of books that include paranormal activity, and only read this one because I'm such a fan of Mr. Koryta's work, which includes one other ghost story, So Cold the River. But readers with similar feelings should give The Cypress House a try. The paranormal aspect of the book is minimal, it does not focus on it. Instead, it helps to move the story, and helps to sort out the past of Arlen Wagner. And while Arlen's gift is never forgotten, the rest of the story is one that any mystery lover will enjoy. Its 415 pages move quickly and contain many moments of suspense, at least once giving me the twisting and turning of the stomach one gets climbing the first hill of a roller coaster.

     The Cypress House is now quite possibly my favorite book by Michael Koryta, stealing the top spot from his fourth book, Envy the Night. Don't just add it to your to read list, put it at the top!


     Don't click away from The Itch just yet! If you love mystery books, particularly ones written by Michael Connelly, you won't be able to pass up this chance to win a copy of his book, The Lincoln Lawyer, and a promotional poster for The Lincoln Lawyer movie starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller and Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo and more.
     Readers of The Itch are eligible to participate in a drawing to win a mass market copy of The Lincoln Lawyer and a poster by emailing your name, address, and phone number to  Of the entries submitted, five will be selected at random. Prizes will be sent directly from The Hatchette Book Group. All entries must be in by February 10, 2011.