Michael Koryka's The Cypress House

Blending “gritty noir and ghostly visions,” Michael Koryka’s The Cypress House will remind readers of his acclaimed Gothic narrative, So Cold the River (Kirkus Reviews 2010). Kortya published four conventional mysteries in his Lincoln Perry series before attempting to write these unique standalone novels. The Cypress House perfects what So Cold the River introduced – a mystery novel that blends suspense, horror and the supernatural. Marilyn Stasio identifies The Cypress House and The Ridge (Koryta’s next novel) as the best supernatural mysteries of 2011.

Michael Koryka graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice, worked as a newspaper reporter, taught at the Indiana University School of Journalism, and was employed as a private investigator (see his website for additional details on his life).. He wrote his first novel as a freshman in college and although it was rejected, wrote a second one that won an Edgar Allan Poe nomination for best first novel.

When asked to describe the plot of the novel, Koryta replied: “The protagonist, Arlen Wagner, was plagued by premonitions of death during his days on the battlefield. Years later the visions return, and convince him to leave a train in an isolated stretch of Florida. A hurricane forces him to take refuge at a tavern called the Cypress House, which is owned by a woman who seems to be operating at the instruction of local gangsters” (“Q & A with Michael Koryta,” 2011).

Collette Bancroft (2011) identifies the novel as a “gripping noir thriller-ghost story.” Set during the Depression, it is also a powerful combination of historical fiction and supernatural mystery. “Never less than gripping and with the element of the supernatural blending strangely seamlessly with the murderous reality, Koryta,” as The Times (2011) observes, “has crafted a noir novel that simultaneously echoes the 1948 film Key Largo [about the 1935 hurricane] starring Humphrey Bogart, and the Eagles’ Hotel California.”

Although an unlikely setting for terror, the Gulf Coast of Florida is the location of what Alison Flood describes as an “eerie and unsettling thriller.” The setting is indeed hauntingly evocative. “However counterintuitive,” writes Koch (2011), Koryta “makes this curious mix of supernatural prescience and gothic-noir work with a seamless atmospheric certainty.”

Reading the novel may remind some readers of Steinbeck’s work. It has the same intensity as Of Mice and Men, another story about two men combating powerful social forces during the Depression.

Each of the characters in the novel is richly drawn and convincingly portrayed. Arlen Wagner is a particular compelling character, an individual shaped by his experiences in the Great War.

Kirkus Reviews (2010) sums up the novel best: “A commanding performance in the field of supernatural noir.”

Bancroft, Collette. “Young Novelist’s Latest Is Scary Good.” St. Petersburg Times. January 23, 2011.

Koryta, Michael. The Cypress House. New York: Little, Brown, 2011.

“Koryta, Michael: The Cypress House.” Kirkus Reviews. November 1, 2010.

Millar, Peter. “A Deadly Pandora’s Box.” The Times. March 26, 2011.

“Q & A with Michael Koryta.” Sunday Telegraph. February 27, 2011.