It can be easy for an author to find a niche in this market and remain there, safely topping bestseller’s lists and writing comfortably to their strengths. John Inman does so with great style, wit, and tenderness, making him an auto-buy author for me when it comes to m/m romance. So, imagine my surprise when the new Dreamspinner Press Publications offered up a horror story, entitled Willow Man, by none other than John Inman, the scribe of droll and witty romance fame. I was intrigued. Then I was shocked, spellbound, and plain scared out of my wits. And my heart? Oh dear readers, my heart fell in love with a ragtag group of teens that would become adults with a mission. They needed to destroy the thing that had taken one of their own and countless others from their midst. It was time to put an end to Willow Man’s reign of terror, once and for all.
First let me say that, without a doubt, this was a very scary story. The inherent evil that became the Willow Man was so terribly real, and so much bigger than any hateful, twisted being you could imagine. The brilliant move by author John Inman in creating such a foul creature lay in the fear that such a person provokes in the heart of both a child and adult alike. Willow Man was so believable that I too wanted him dead—I wanted the horror that Woody and his friends experienced to mean something. So, before I go any further, allow me to explain just how this wonderful gang of kids came in contact with such a dark and disgusting predator.
Woody lived at the edge of a canyon. The only son of an overprotective and slightly OCD mother and a caring father, Woody had a small group of friends with whom he hung out most every day. Of them all, Bobby was his best friend, by far. Bobby had a terrible home life with parents who barely knew he was alive due to their being so engulfed in both their hatred for each other and the alcohol they consumed. So, it made sense that Bobby spent most nights and days with Woody’s family, in Woody’s room, in Woody’s bed. The summer would bring more than terror into Woody’s life, it would bring a first love, a realization that he was gay, and a lasting heartache that would prevent him from loving anyone but Bobby for many years to come.
Surrounded by these two young lovers was a feisty, fiery redhead named Cathy, and Chuck and Jeremy, a set of twins who lusted for their long awaited puberty. Smart mouthed, perpetually angry, and loyal to a fault, these three would surround Woody and Bobby with as much protection as was possible from a naïve group of teens. The terror that awaited them would test the limits of their friendship and nearly destroy it. However, despite the horror they would all endure those first weeks of summer, years later most would all return to that deadly canyon and face down its macabre inhabitant, even if it meant their death in the process.
It began with the discovery of a headless skeleton. A passenger flight had gone down in the canyon after colliding with a smaller craft years before and when the gang uncovered a set of bones sans head, the local authorities made little fuss over its unearthing. The gang continued to play in the canyon until the discovery of the neighbor lady’s dog staked and tortured and whose burial would create an incident so unbelievable that they realized they were not alone in that barren patch of earth. But it was when Cathy was attacked by the creature that she would dub the Willow Man that the real nightmare began, and it would not end until it claimed one of his or her own.
I cannot begin to tell you how amazing I felt this story turned out to be in the end. Incredibly fast paced, terrifying at parts, and heartbreaking at others, Willow Man by John Inman is definitely not for the faint of heart. I should also mention that there is on the page mention of rape. It is alluded to twice and I feel that it was definitely a necessary plot point to fully understand just how horrific a person Willow Man was in life and death. However, I mention it here, as it may be a trigger for some readers, so please know that it is not a drawn out passage by any means but it is truly visceral and disturbing.
My heart bled for Woody and Bobby and I reveled in their courage, particularly Woody’s as he faced down this demon on more than one occasion. The small gang of friends was both fearless and terrified by turns, and Inman wrote with such veracity that the reader is pulled into the story and made to feel that they are right there in the thick of things. I honestly could not put this novel down and believe me when I say that every light was ablaze in my living room as I read well into the night. Perhaps it’s because I have such an active imagination, or perhaps its because I have children of my own, but I really think the reason I was so swept up into this story was the sheer genius of the writing and the incredible story telling by its author.
I highly recommend Willow Man by John Inman to you. It is a remarkable horror story with tender romances interwoven in its pages and an ending that will rock your world. I can only hope that Inman decides to pen a sequel to this phenomenal story.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.