The Cypress House by Michael Koryta
(Little, Brown and Company, 2011, 415 pages)
If you like mysteries, this is one that you will not be able to put down. Koryta vividly tells the story of Arlen Wagner and his special gift to communicate with the dead. When he saw smoke rising and flesh disappearing from the body he knew it foretold the person’s death. The Cypress House begins with Arlen aboard a train headed for a Florida work camp where he and others hope to find work. When Arlen see smoke rising in the eyes of his fellow workers he convinces young Paul to jump off the train. In their search for work, they come upon a broken down roadhouse, the Cypress House. Cypress wood is a very hard wood that was often used to build coffins because of its sturdiness. Rebecca, the beautiful woman who is found tending the Cypress House, allows them to stay for a night that turns out to be much longer. Arlen has weathered much during his life including life in the trenches during World War II. When he was a solider he could sense when the enemy was not to die from his hands because of the lack of the smoke. Arlen did not feel his ability was a gift, he was unable to explain why he was able to sense things. However, when Arlen was a child he witnessed his father, an undertaker, speaking to dead bodies which terrified him.
While at the Cypress House, Arlen finds that Rebecca’s brother is involved with several unsavory lawmen who are using him to smuggle drugs. When smoke is revealed in Paul’s eyes, Arlen knows he must get Paul out of there. His plot to anger the smitten Paul backfires when Paul decides to join in with the evil doers. Rebecca’s desire is to stay until her brother was released from prison, but upon his release her younger brother wants to make big money by returning to his drug running endeavors. Koryta reveals twists and turns all throughout the story as Rebecca, her brother, Paul, or Arlen try to escape from the Cypress House. The Cypress House is intended to be their coffin.