Arlen Wagner has an awful gift, first discovered on the battlefields during his Army days: he sees death in the eyes of men before it strikes them. He is never wrong.
Fortunately, the haunting premonitions that plagued him in the war aren't common back home. They aren't, at least, until a hot Florida night in a train car bound for the Keys, when Arlen awakens to find the telltale smoke showing in every man's eyes...
Accompanied by 19-year-old Paul Brickhill, the only person aboard who heeds his strange warnings, Arlen abandons the train. The two soon find themselves in a rural jail, then stranded at The Cypress House—a solitary tavern and boarding house located on the eerie marsh land of the Gulf Coast—right in the path of a hurricane.
The storm isn't the only approaching danger. From the beautiful Rebecca Cady, who owns the roadhouse but seems to host no guests but those hand-picked by the local sheriff, the two men begin to suspect that a much deadlier threat may be hiding in the swamp's shadows, circling, dead set on stopping them from ever escaping the county. From its chilling beginning to heart-pounding end, THE CYPRESS HOUSE is a story of relentless evil and unmatched suspense.
Cypress House is the type of book that's hard to review because the book is full of intrigue and mystery, with lots of questions to be answered, and spoiling any part of that would ruin what I consider to be wonderful storytelling. There is a certain feeling that comes with reading a Depression era novel, something slow and lazy, full of heartbreak, with lives being forever changed, and Cypress House has that same tone. It's hard to describe, which is why I am no author, but I could hear these voices in my mind and the setting was so real- loaded with tension and suspense. The same steady pace keeps up throughout the book and slowly builds to a climax. This book would make an excellent movie.
As much as I enjoyed the sleepy setting, it was the characters that acted as the backbone for this story. Very early on I decided that I liked the main character, Arlen, because he exemplified the mysterious stranger, with a well practiced easy going nature and sharp wit. In one scene, shortly after he convinced Paul to abandon the train, warning that getting back on would prove fatal, he abruptly ended Paul's questioning and complaining by saying something along the lines of: "At what point between here and Alabama did you lose the use of your legs?" He definitely wouldn't be considered the most vocal guy around, and at times I did wish for more dialogue, but he always got his point across.
I pictured Becky as Ashley Judd, beautiful with plenty of contradictions- vulnerable and strong, capable yet needy, isolated even when surrounded by people. She did not want to let Paul and Arlen into her messy life and remained a tightly wound coil until Arlen forces her hand. I admired her grit even if I would have done things differently.
Grab a glass of iced tea, keep the snacks close and pull up a cozy chair because once you start reading you won't want to stop. Even when I put the book down I kept thinking of the rundown house, the empty town and all its inhabitants, and trying without much success to figure out the secrets of Cypress House. The end might surprise you.
*Reviewed by Anna Dougherty for Bite Club.
*Book obtained from NetGalley