Book Reviews: The Cypress House by Michael Koryta, The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh, and On Borrowed Time by David Rosenfelt

The Cypress House
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05372-3
Hardcover

Death and corruption haunt this tale about a World War I veteran during the Depression who has a unique ability to see whether a person faces an imminent demise because of a trace of smoke in his/her eyes. Arlen Wagner in the late 30’s was a supervisor at a Civilian Conservation Corps (“CCC”) camp and was transferred to another in the Florida Keys along with several others from his detachment.  On the train he saw the sign of death in his fellow passengers and tried to warn them of impending danger, but only 19-year-old Paul Brickhill listened to him.

The two abandoned the train and found themselves at an isolated inn on the Gulf Coast, The Cypress House (a euphemism for a casket).  There they discovered a different kind of danger: a corrupt judge and a sheriff who ruled the area by sheer terror, allowing drugs to be imported from Cuba at a boat landing located near the inn.

The eerie but fascinating tale follows the efforts of the two men, along with Rebecca Cady, who runs the inn, to survive not only the massive 1935 hurricane which caused severe death and destruction, but the human forces that ruled the area.  Written with an excellent eye for describing life during the Great Depression, the novel also exhibits a deep view of human emotions, as Arlen, while wishing to depart as fast as he can, refuses to abandon Rebecca or Paul.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Attenbury Emeralds
Jill Paton Walsh
Minotaur Books, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-67454-0
Hardcover

I have a confession to make:  I never read any of the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries.  As a result, I suppose, I can approach this novel without any prejudice about the originals written by a legendary author, the redoubtable Dorothy L. Sayers.  And I can firmly state that I have been remiss and must hasten to correct my past negligence.

The author undoubtedly undertook a dream assignment:  to bring closure to the series with this concluding work, bringing Lord Peter full circle to recount his first “detective” assignment and finally bringing the ultimate mystery successfully to a conclusion. Initially, Lord Peter undertook to find the missing Attenbury Emeralds which seemed to disappear during an engagement party.  This novel, however, traces further mysteries surrounding the gems through several decades before, during and after World War II.

I have, of course, no way of knowing how authentic the tone of the book or development of the characters is compared to the originals, but I suspect they are completely compatible.  The dialogue, deliberately stilted to simulate upper crust English society, is really touching, and, of course, the interaction between Peter and Harriet poignant.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

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On Borrowed Time
David Rosenfelt
Minotaur Books, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-59836-5
Hardcover

This is a potboiler of a novel, the author’s third standalone.  He is remembered most fondly for his Andy Carpenter series and admired for his home for sick and injured dogs.  He has now turned his creative self to a sort of sci-fi mystery in which journalist Richard Kilmer lives in both a real and a fantasy world.

Without giving the plot away, it is safe to say the story relies on the reader to suspend disbelief in some ways.  Richard is set up to believe what someone wants him to in order to prove the success of an experiment in mind manipulation.  On the other hand, it becomes quite obvious that the more he is channeled in a specific manner, the more he acts contrary to direction, somewhat opposite to what one would expect.

In any event, the novel progresses to almost a soap opera type of conclusion, detracting, in my view, from an otherwise over-all pretty high standard.  That is not to say that I have a better idea, or that the ending is not warranted, at least on the level of what went before.  That said, the book is, for the most part, good fun, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

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