Dear Ms. Merrow.
It’s no secret that I love your very British voice, your brilliant characters, all completely different from each other, and your wonderful stories. So I was excited to see you had another story out. And part of me thinks this one is different from your others, but then, I don’t think you really have a “style” or a theme you keep coming back to, or a particular way of writing.
This book is a Gothic romance. It’s a contemporary-set m/m Gothic with some fascinating twists, but it felt to me like the characters were being pushed to act in or even to BE certain ways in order to fulfill the Gothic conventions and requirements. The characters were true to themselves, don’t get me wrong. They don’t act out of character at all — I think you’re too good an author for that. It’s just that their personalities are constructed to fill a particular role in the novel, rather than constructed organically.
Will Golding is visiting his old summer vacation place, the Isle of Wight, with his best friend Edward Barrie, or Baz. They’re there because Baz, a journalist, is supposedly researching a book about ghosts on the island. Except he’s not really. What he’s really researching is a notorious, decades-old murder/suicide, but he doesn’t tell Will that. Will is a personal trainer in London and he’s had a crush on Baz for years. They’re friends with very occasional benefits (almost entirely Will blowing Baz and Baz reciprocating with a handjob). Will knows he’ll never get more but was looking forward to the week with Baz nonetheless. So he’s pretty ticked off when Baz immediately takes up with a woman at the campsite they’re at.
The first night on the island, Will sees a “ghost” swimming in the ocean. He realizes later, when Baz interviews him, that his “ghost” was really horror writer Marcus Devereux, owner of the local “house on the hill.” Will thought Marcus was a “ghost” because Marcus has albinism, which means he doesn’t go out during the day because it’s too bright for his eyes…but also because he suffers from severe social anxiety. Marcus is also kept virtual prisoner by his guardian, Leif, who is very overbearing, even when he’s not there, keeping Marcus psychologically isolated.
The problem with the story is that Baz is an asshole, Will’s a bit thick, and Marcus is a shrinking violet who can’t stand up to his overbearing guardian. I liked Will and Marcus when they were fumbling their ways to each other. Suffering from social anxiety as he does, Marcus isn’t very good with people. So he attempts to reconstruct a scene he had with Will:
But while he was supposed to be writing about scary things happening, all he could think about was Will. He kept turning the evening’s conversation over in his mind. Had he behaved reasonably? Damn it. Pretend this was a scene in a book. A conversation between two characters. Call them…call them Martin and Bill. How would one expect the reader to react to Martin’s behavior?
Marcus started to type.
Scene: Bill has just helped Martin, in manner of Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility (is this foreshadowing? Might Bill turn out to be Willoughby-type rogue and/or cad?)
Martin: Thanks for helping me. Why don’t you come in for a drink?
Bill: Thanks, I will.
Martin: *Leaps upon Bill and sexually harasses him*
Bill: Why don’t we get to know each other first? *Performs highly competent First Aid* Oh, and I think you should know my friend has been asking strange questions about you.
Martin: *In manner of outraged maiden aunt* Get out of my house and never darken my door again.
Oh God. Oh God Oh God Oh God. Marcus wanted to pull a cushion over his face. Maybe he’d suffocate and die and not have to live with this excruciating embarrassment… He’d been an idiot. Will must think…Oh God, Marcus did not want to dwell on what Will must think of him.
Marcus and Will together are sweet, endearing, and funny. Will is utterly unable not to be perfectly forthright. If something’s bothering, he comes right out with it. Marcus is trying to figure out how to have a relationship. Will thinks Marcus is beautiful, Marcus loves how safe he feels with Will. They’re great together and I enjoyed those parts of the book.
But Baz is too much of an asshole and Will too much of an idiot when he deals with his friend, and Marcus too tentative with his guardian for me to enjoy the whole story. And there was too much mystery-type sleuthing of Baz and Will interviewing people all over the island about Marcus’s story. This is very well done, in fact — Marcus would never tell Will about the story, because he’s too private. He doesn’t have to break character for us to get the story, and that’s great. But it doesn’t really forward the relationship at all. Or tell us much else about Marcus’s and Will’s characters, besides the fact that Will is a bit too stupid to figure out what Baz is doing, which was just annoying.
And then the murder attempts start and it all just gets in the way of Will and Marcus together and I didn’t much care for it all. I still loved the two main characters, but I personally don’t like mysteries — go out of my way to avoid them — and this felt too much like a mystery to me. So if readers like mystery that’s more like suspense, actually, with a lot of Gothic thrown in, with their romance, they’ll probably jump all over this. I…don’t. But that’s me.