Rating: 4.5 stars
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Andrew Wingal is the south side tour guide. When he lost his job a year ago in a slagging economy, he decided to start up his own business by catering to people’s morbid fascination with the seedy underbelly of the city. Maybe it’s not the most moral of enterprises, but Andy’s never made as much money as he manages to rake in each week. People pay him to take them to the wrong side of town in order to get caught up in some sort of criminal activity and become part of the action.
When Andy becomes a witness to a murder, he needs to get out of town, and the only place he can escape to is his ex-brother-in-law’s Iowa farm. He quickly finds himself getting attached not only to his niece and nephew, but to the slow, laid-back lifestyle in Iowa that is completely opposed to his life in Chicago.
Andy starts to notice how easy things are with his sister’s ex-husband, Harden, as well. Harden, for his part, is ecstatic to have someone to help entertain his children, as he’s felt the burden of single parenthood since his wife has been gone. Andy steps into the role quickly and the children adore him. Life becomes almost too idealistic, and there are some problems that come their way before they can decide what the future holds.
It’s interesting that, as I started to write the summary for this novel, I found there wasn’t a whole lot to say, which is unusual for such a long book. This is not to say that the story was at all boring. Most of it takes place on a rural farm in Iowa, though, away from any type of city life. The pace is slow, but at the same time, really captures the feel of the setting. This is small-town life. There are town picnics. Everyone knows your business. Trips to the community pool are as exotic as it gets here. But by the end, I was ready to pack my bags and move to a farm. After I bought one. And figured out how to run it. There’s something so fascinating and intriguing about farm life.
There was also something compelling about the two main characters, Harden and Andy. This is an OFY story and gives you a good, slow build-up. I have such a love/hate relationship with these types of books. There’s nothing better than that anticipation of two characters coming together, but man is it frustrating! In this case, I was happy to wait for Harden and Andy. They were men full of integrity and kindness and were so good for each other. And it is not at all lacking in the steam department. There are a couple of great sex scenes, but the book is not overwrought with them. I think it maintained a perfect balance of sex and story.
I had a couple of small problems with this book. First of all, the author, on fairly frequent occasions, used kind of unnatural sounding language. For instance: “Some hurried to see where he was going, for they knew wherever Andy’s van traveled excitement wasn’t far behind.” It’s that “for” that’s throwing me off. It’s kind of a silly criticism, but one that I noticed on more than one occasion.
I also had a problem with the premise of the story — the idea of the south side tours. Perhaps I’m naive, but not only does this idea seems ludicrous, it would be a liability nightmare. Let’s drive into the seedy part of town and see if we can get shot at! If these tours exist, can they just not? While I thought the idea lent some real originality to the story, I felt it may have been at the cost of some credibility.
Overall, though, I thought the writing was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Shelter Somerset was a new to me author, and I will be following his books in the future. It’s a perfect summer read, so pick it up and give it a try!