Koryta’s ‘The Cypress House’ is spooky thriller

Michael Koryta is grabbing readers with his new book, The Cypress House. While he isn’t as supernatural as Stephen King, he does spin a good tale.

“The Cypress House” (Little, Brown and Co., $24.99), by Michael Koryta: Michael Koryta grabs readers with tales of gripping suspense and just enough touches of the supernatural to keep them nervous on two levels.

Not as deeply supernatural as Stephen King, Koryta does match King for storytelling, and he creates characters who come alive for readers.

In “The Cypress House,” his latest noir-thriller, he introduces Arlen Wagner, a labourer who served in World War I and is now trying to make it through the Great Depression.

Wagner has a talent he would rather not have: He can tell when someone is about to die. It starts with a trace of smoke about the eyes, a sign that is never wrong.

The book opens on a train heading for a work camp in Florida, and as Wagner looks around, he sees death all about him. Everyone on the train is doomed. His warnings earn only mockery from doubting fellow passengers. The exception is Paul Brickhill, a 19-year-old who has made Wagner a personal hero. Brickhill follows Wagner off the train and into a dangerous adventure in the Florida wilderness.

They end up at the Cypress House, an oddly misplaced effort at an inn, mysteriously hidden away on the deserted coast and used only by a local gangster and the corrupt sheriff who works with him.

The pair hold the county, and the beautiful Rebecca, who operates the Cypress House, in their iron control. And Wagner is someone they intend to use or get rid of.

Koryta, who made the jump for crime writing to crime writing with a twist, knows how to build suspense. He paints dark and dangerous times with hurricanes and murderers threatening Wagner, Brickhill and Rebecca.

His thriller is graced with masterly descriptions of the area and the pending storm that is another killer the trio must survive.

In his taut and atmospheric story, Koryta keeps readers guessing right up to the end on how things will turn out, especially when Wagner begins to see the signs of death in his own face.