The Cypress House
by Michael Koryta
Little, Brown, 2011. 426 pgs. Fiction.
During his service in World War I, Arlen Wagner discovered an unsettling "gift": those who were about to die he saw as skeletons with smoke-filled eyes. Though they could never save themselves, others sometimes could. Back home and riding south to a job opportunity in Florida, Arlen sees his train car fill with skeletons and though he tries to get everyone off, only his young friend Paul Brickhill believes and stays. Caught in the Cypress House, a local fishing and hunting resort, by a hurricane, the two men stay to help the resort's enigmatic manager, a lovely young woman named Rebecca. Smitten, Paul won't leave without helping Rebecca repair the damaged lodge though Arlen feels spooked and wants to get out. Soon the two are embroiled in the machinations of a frighteningly wicked local judge and his corrupt "law enforcement" officers. Violent deaths and gruesome warnings follow as Arlen fights to save an occasionally skeletal Paul
from the judge and from his own impetuous behavior. The truly frightening final scenes play out in a snake-filled swamp where Arlen not only meets his destiny, but is at last reconciled with his dead father. Well-written, deeply atmospheric, and redolent with the ghosts of the Deep South,
The Cypress House is inexorably suspenseful, a great read for the waning winter nights.