Monday, March 14, 2011


Two recent, highly entertaining novels would make great movies - full of interesting characters, unusual locales and riveting action. While one is set during the great depression and the other is set in the near future, both have memorable conclusions.

"The Cyprus House" by Michael Koryta (Little Brown, $24.95) is a distinctive, hard-to categorize tale set in Florida in 1935. It combines a number of different genres, deftly blending supernatural elements in a crime novel with noir touches.

Arlen Wagner and Paul Brickhill are on a train going through Florida, on their way with others to work at a Civilian Conservation Camp.

Wagner, who fought in World War I, has visions of forthcoming death; he convinces Brickhill to join him and leave the train. Soon they get a ride to "The Cyprus House," a Gulf Coast boardinghouse run by beautiful Rebecca Cady, where their troubles intensify.

When you throw in a major hurricane, a nasty sheriff, a crooked judge and additional violence, you've got all the elements for an intriguing tale.

The strong character development is showcased as emotions surge and unexpected situations cause significant stress and tension.

The author of four excellent mysteries and the horror novel "So Cold the River," Koryta masterfully creates a mesmerizing, highly atmospheric novel that's tough to put down, especially the last hundred pages.

Patrick Lee's latest effort, "Ghost Country" (Harper, $7.99) is in the same category, but there's considerably more action and violence.

This is a gripping page-turner that opens with the abduction of Paige Campbell. She's kidnapped after showing the U.S. President an unusual alien artifact that serves as a time portal.

Campbell is out to stop the utter devastation that the device shows her, with Mankind facing utter ruin 73 years from now.

Quick-thinking Travis Chase is recruited to rescue Campbell and is in for a full-throttle adventure; government agents are in pursuit, trying to stop them at any cost.

This is more than a slightly skewered "Stargate" type of tale; it's full of narrow escapes and deadly close calls that could be easily adapted to film.

While "Ghost Country" reads well as a stand-alone novel, it's best to first pick up Lee's paperback debut "The Breach", which introduced Chase, Campbell and the mysterious alien artifacts.

 Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on March 13, 2011.

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