Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 250 Pages
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by Riptide Publishing via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
A Creepy-Good Read
Crawling under his desk to hide from his board of directors is perhaps not the most dignified course of action for museum curator Dr. Wyatt Case, but with members of the board looking to discuss the museum's dismal attendance and subsequent lack of revenue, it seems a prudent option at the time. Unfortunately, it wasn't a successful one.
With his job on the line and not one crowd-drawing idea to speak of, he needs a distraction from the growing probability of impending unemployment. Maybe that's why he lets his best friend Noah drag him out to an odd little gaslight-themed bar called The Gravedigger's Tavern.
Wyatt quickly realizes he should have been more specific about that whole distraction thing. Gravedigger's is definitely not his normal scene. Not that he's gotten laid enough in the last decade to really have a scene, but still. Hey, at least the bartender is cute.
Ash Lucroix, bartender extraordinaire, takes one look at the geeky-chic Wyatt and falls into serious like with a side-order of healthy lust. It's obvious he's not the history buff's normal type, but they hit it off so well that a night spent flirting and talking while he serves the man his drinks certainly put ideas in his head.
Gravedigger's puts ideas in Wyatt's head, too. Ideas for a new museum exhibit featuring history on hauntings and haunted buildings, as the tavern is purported to be. When Wyatt's research uncovers the building's sinister and macabre past, even the skeptical Ash is freaked out. Then a barroom brawl ends with Ash taking a bottle to the head, and suddenly his skepticism is taking a worse beating than his noggin.
Is Gravedigger's really haunted, or is the combination of a concussion and the stories Wyatt has dug up playing tricks on Ash's mind? More importantly, will they live long enough to find out?
Expectations can be so damaging to a reading experience. I went into this one with my mind set on paranormal romance and ended up almost doing this fabulously freaky story a grave disservice. Yes, it has paranormal elements and there is romance, but the relationship between Wyatt and Ash is never really the focus of the plot. At times it's even less than a secondary thread.
Personally, I got way more of a paranormal romantic suspense vibe from the story, and if I had gone into it with that mindset, I think a lot of the problems I ended up having with the romance (and there were several) wouldn't have ever been problems and this would have been pretty close to a five-star read for me. Right or wrong, as a reader I have a different set of wants and needs from the arc of a romance in the two different sub-genres. For romantic suspense, those were mostly met, for romance, they weren't even close.
When I remove my issues with the relationship arc, though, I have to say this book is haunting, chilling, and creepy-good entertainment. Hell, even with the issues, I didn't dislike anything I read.
Wyatt and Ash were solid lead characters, if a little lacking in depth and definition. The plot didn't leave a lot of room for complex personal or interpersonal issues, but as characters they were perfectly likable. They were even quite nice as a couple, though they aren't actually a couple throughout a good portion of the story (part of my problem with considering this a romance). It also wasn't a relationship that was brimming with visceral sexual chemistry - at least, not that I ever felt outside the few sex scenes - but it made up for that with an abundance of endearing charm.
The book has a nice assortment of colorful secondary characters that had more going for them in personality than they did in depth, but that worked for me. They added to the vibrant intensity of the story itself. I really enjoyed Wyatt's best friend Noah and his relationship with Ash's boss Caleb. They were fun together and had a lot of sweet scene-stealing moments. Actually, in a lot of ways, the arc of their romance was more traditionally satisfying than Wyatt and Ash's.
Where this book truly shines, though, is with the superlative storytelling surrounding the Gravedigger's ghostly woes. There is a wealth of interesting historical information throughout the book, some of it disturbing as all hell, and a conflict with a psychotic poltergeist that builds in intensity and horror as the story goes along. Everything is woven together so brilliantly that the blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction creates a stalwart foundation of horror and suspense that seeps into every nook and cranny of the narrative.
It starts with chilling subtlety, with much of the weirdness being written off because of Ash's head injury. It was all so fabulously realistic and believable in that regard. Then things begin to get increasingly weird as Ash draws more and more attention from the spectral sadist. Roux handled it perfectly, keeping me perched precariously on a razor's edge between the unbelievable: a haunted tavern and a serial killer ghost, and the entirely believable: a young man with head trauma.
It was really well done; atmospheric, disturbing, and more than a little scary.
With Halloween just around the corner there couldn't be a more perfect time for fans of creepy ghost stories to make note of this little bundle of spine-tingling fun. Just check your expectations at the front cover. There's some hot M/M sex, solid characters, an understated romance, and one mightily brassed off ghost with a yen for the freaky life. Enjoy.