When Ewan Parrish receives a letter with a job offer, he’s intrigued enough that he feels he must take it. Traveling to America, Ewan meets with the client Georgia Dupree, who states she wants a covered and caged wrought iron walkway leading from the house and into the woods. This is for her brother, Pennsylvania, so that he experience the outdoors again. Pennsylvania must be kept locked up for his own good. Ewan is too intrigued to turn the project down and he sets about work, while simultaneously trying to discover the secrets being kept from him.
Pennsylvania suffers from terrible spells that cause him to black out, after which he has no memory of what happened. When he was but 18 years old, he suffered one such spell and seriously harmed his lover. Or, at least, that is what he’s been told. Pennsylvania has no choice but to believe the things his sister has told him, as he has no evidence to the contrary. He spends his days locked in his room, reading, writing, drawing, and thinking. Until Ewan shows up.
Conversing through a hole in the wall, with Pennsylvania still locked inside and Ewan outside, the two men quickly fall in love. Ewan sets out to discover exactly what happened all those years ago, because he knows that Pennsylvania cannot be to blame and he wants nothing more than to set his love’s mind to rest But nothing is as it seems, and the real truth is darker than anyone thought.
So, I really wanted to like this book. The blurb grabbed me from the start, and the premise had me really interested. But things fell apart almost at the start and there was very little that brought it back together.
The part that worked the best for me was the mystery. The author did an exceedingly good job and laying out the clues, dropping in small hints, and building the anticipation. When things finally came to a head, there had been enough information given that it wasn’t exactly a surprise, but I still didn’t see it coming. More than that, everything having to do with this aspect of the plot line had a plausible explanation. So I thought the mystery aspect was done really well, and it’s the reason that I not only finished this book, but was able to give it a couple of stars.
Because the rest of this book just didn’t work for me. The prose was overly formal. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a direct reflection of the time or not, as this book is set in the 1920s, but it didn’t work very well. It kept me from fully engaging with the story or the characters. When I feel like I’m being given a vocabulary lesson, it’s going to diminish my enjoyment of a story, whether it’s accurate for the time period or not. And to be honest, I have no idea if it is) At any rate, this did not work at all for me.
On top of that, the characters seemed like caricatures instead of real men. Ewan comes off as both arrogant and smarmy, with incongruous splashes of heartfelt helpfulness. He also felt a little coercive and manipulative in his pursuit of Pennsylvania. The younger man has been locked in a room for eight years, and Ewan knows he’s got no experience. So while I certainly wouldn’t call it dubcon, because Pennsylvania actually knows very well what he’s doing, it still had a bit of a creepy factor that I just couldn’t shake. At least, it felt that way to me.
My issue with Pennsylvania is similar, in that he his thought and actions didn’t exactly mesh with each other. He’d been held prisoner for so many years, and in fact spent essentially his whole life as a captive in the house, and yet his thoughts were of someone much more worldly. A great deal of his intelligence can be explained by the copious amounts of reading he does, but I would have expected a lot more reluctance and even fear when he is dealing with Ewan and, later, his sister. And yet, he is bold and brash at certain points. While it fit the situation, it didn’t fit the character, and as such, it didn’t ring true. Not to mention that I felt no connection between the two MCs at all, and thought their declarations of love felt empty. This was instalove in its truest form, but sadly, not believable at all.
So while the mystery thread was engaging, and I thought the twist was cleverly done, the rest of this book missed the mark for me. What could have been a good story was bogged down by underdeveloped characters and flowery, awkward prose that kept me from engaging in the story.