One man’s gift is another man’s burden. World-weary veteran Arlen Wagner
wants only to survive the Great Depression, traveling to a CCC camp on a train
headed to the Florida Keys. Mimicking his experience in the Great War, Arlen
watches in horror as the faces of the men around him turn to skulls devoid of
life, a sure prophecy of imminent death - other than the face of Paul Brickhill.
Convincing Paul to leave the train with him, the pair makes their way to Cypress
House, a remote inn where they later learn the tragic fate of their fellow
travelers: all perished in the 1935 Hurricane in the Florida Keys.
After a run-in with the local sheriff, Arlen is anxious to get back on the road, but the younger and less-experienced Paul has been sidetracked by the beautiful proprietor of Cypress House, Rebecca Cady. Although a decade her junior, Paul is in love and determined to help Rebecca repair the damage from the hurricane in spite of the enmity of the local sheriff and a cold-eyed judge with no tolerance for strangers: “Go on back and hope I don’t have to venture your way again. Pray for it.”
Arlen’s ability to recognize impending death lends weight to a tale that is already ominous for the future of the two travelers. Whatever illegal activities go on in Corridor County, Arlen and Paul are not welcome to witness or speculate. In spite of Rebecca’s presence, the house is clearly a repository of menace, site of a reckoning that will trap Arlen in circumstances that force him to acknowledge his past and the obligations of his burden. With the intensity of a freight train bearing down on all who fail to heed the whistle, evil is pervasive, Arlen finely tuned to such things.
Seeking to remove Paul from danger and support Rebecca until she can leave Cypress House, Arlen is unwillingly entangled in the affairs of men who practice a careless brutality bred of unchecked power and the certainty of their position. Only by accessing the gift he carries so heavily does Arlen have any chance against his formidable enemies, from a backwoods hired gun and his wily sons to a smooth-talking judge whose smile is belied by the malice in his heart.
The conflict of evil men intent on destruction is sufficient to propel this novel, but Koryta’s channeling of Dan Simmons and Dean Koontz brings yet another level to the experience, where the souls of the dead barter for the living and Arlen’s plunge into that dark netherworld is the only means of survival. Expect the unexpected to be sure, but keep the lights burning for the wandering souls of the damned still at large.