With the novel, One Under, author J.L. Merrow takes us back to the beautiful seaside Porthkennack and the Roscarrock family. Those who remember Dev and Kyle from Merrow’s first novel in this series, Wake Up Call, will get to see them again briefly in this story. Dev is the illegitimate son of Bea—one of the three Roscarrock siblings. A mere blip in this original story was her much younger brother, Jory, who has been kept in the dark about Bea’s teenage pregnancy and his nephew. All that is about to change as Jory meets Mal, Dev’s best friend who has come to the island in order to recover from his own horrific work accident that has left him with serious PTSD and the possibility that he will never be able to return to his old job.
Mal was a tube driver who had a suicidal jumper end his life before his very eyes. Now he is in Porthkennack trying to get a grip on his nerves and decide about his future. The last thing he is expecting is to meet Jory and feel attracted to him. Mal is torn over both the fact that Jory is from the family who not only disowned his best mate, but refuses to even meet with him and also because Jory has a Ph.D. in education while Mal is nothing but a tube driver. To say that these two things leave Mal twisted and confused is to understate just how much Mal is fighting against his attraction and feeling guilty about his feelings at the same time. All Jory knows is he has a nephew he never heard of before, he likes said nephew’s best friend very much, and that his own secret is going to be a real deterrent to pursuing anything with Mal. Now if all that isn’t a recipe for angst and turmoil, I’m not sure what is.
There are many things this author excels at and writing multi-layered characters who never have an easy road romantically tops the list. Add in the ability to create beautiful settings, quirky and, sometimes, miserable side characters, and faithful friends and you have an ensemble cast that works together to weave a fascinating story with enough twists and turns to hold one’s interest and then some. Poor Jory. He comes into his own in many ways in this novel. He has been so used to never rattling his domineering and mean hearted brother that he has never really stood up for himself or done exactly what he wishes. He’s returned home to be nearer his son, Gawen. However, the fact that he is still married to his wife simply because he never wanted to rock the boat or bring down the wrath of his brother who has earmarked Jory’s son as his heir is hard to understand. Yet that sums up Jory in a nutshell—he is either too timid or has never pushed hard enough to rock the boat—until he meets Mal.
Mal comes with his own basket of problems. He is bisexual, but definitely attracted to Jory. But Mal’s self-esteem has taken one too many hits over the last few months and now he finds himself so uncertain about his future that he can hardly see a way to including Jory in it. Mal is like a lost puppy in so many ways. Loyal and loving, but easily confused and distracted. So, the idea that he might be falling for a member of the very family who has cast aside his best friend and made his life a living hell is hard to argue. But Jory is so kind and so understanding. He is also everything Mal is not and that is what Mal struggles with the most.
One Under explores the idea that love looks beyond station in life and college learning to see the person we truly are inside. The novel allows for a man to make mistakes and move to correct them, to forgive the hurts that were unintended and to focus on the greater gain—the love of another person. Mal and Jory are far from perfect, yet they come back to one another again and again knowing that a life without each other is not a life worth pursuing. Author J.L. Merrow once again creates beautiful characters in whose lives we can invest our hearts and emotions. It is a wonderfully chaotic and frustrating romance that pays off in the end.