Michael Koryta – The Cypress House

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta was recently published in paperback. It was recommended to me by a friend who knows I like thrillers with a slight supernatural twist. By slight I mean that I do like to be able to sleep at night given that I do a lot of reading in bed. The blurb compared the author to Stephen King, Peter Straub, Michael Connelly, Dan Simmons and Dean Koontz. What? All of them? It nearly put me off even opening the book and I think it’s a shame that publishers do this. Yes, they may want link a lesser known author to more famous ones but some of the comparisons are ludicrous. There are echoes of Stephen King in this book but I thought that it stood up well enough in its own right.

Arlen Wagner is a war veteran and drifter with the ability to see the imminent death of people through a trace of smoke in their eyes. When he accurately predicts the coming death of a carriage full of workers bound for Florida keys, he and his companion wind up in the Cypress House of the title, a boarding house with no guests and a female owner who is keen to rid herself of their company. What follows is a well paced thriller of murder and corruption with a suspenseful ending. The supernatural element wasn’t too overdone and in fact seemed to fit well in the swampy Gulf Coast setting. It’s a shame I nearly didn’t read the book because of an over enthusiastic marketing campaign.  In fact, I’d like to read more from the author which is always a good sign.

Shona MacLean – Crucible of Secrets

I’ve just finished reading the latest book by Shona MacLean and I am glad to see that she’s back on form. MacLean’s first book The Redemption of Alexander Seaton was in my opinion the best historical thriller of 2009. Set in seventeenth century Scotland, the plot centred on the character of Alexander Seaton, a disgraced minister, embarking on a journey around the country to avenge his friend’s murder. The author’s follow-up book moved the action to northern Ireland and she seemed less sure of her setting. In the Crucible of Secrets the action moves back to Scotland, to the university town of Aberdeen, and the historical landscape once more comes alive.

The book has everything I would expect from a MacLean novel – good historical detail, clear prose and a complex plot.  MacLean has a PhD in Scottish history and her knowledge of the period is clearly excellent. I raced to the finish, always a good sign in a crime novel. I remember the author telling Harrogate Crime Festival that she had numerous rejections for her first book before she eventually found a publisher. She is an example to all aspiring authors of how important it is to keep going – she was eventually taken up by the excellent Quercus.