Maplewood is a picturebook perfect small town located in Virginia. The charming local stores, glorious scenery, and the serene and historical lake make it a favorite place for tourists. There’s the peppy waitress with the easy grin and great service, the librarian with the sad smile, the post office with its bevy of gossiping old biddies, and the small town girl who wants to head west to the magical land of California. And then there’s the curse.
History says — back before there even was a Victoria lake — a preacher had a daughter he loved very much, but her heart was captured by a charming young man from Ireland. Nothing her father said would deter her from her love and the two of them planned to elope and leave the mining town behind. Enraged, the minister killed the young man and locked his daughter in the cellar of the church. Filled with grief and despair, Victoria called upon an ancient evil to avenge her and Riley, causing the mine to explode and foul, brackish water to drown the town. All that’s left of the men and women who lived in the mining town is a lake, and a story, and an uneasiness.
Hayden Moore has left behind his career as a hotshot lawyer of a powerful Boston firm. A successful case caused the death of his husband in a revenge shooting, and to get away from the pain and the memories, Hayden has come to Maplewood. He bought a new house to fill with new memories and has grand plans to restore the old, faded beauty. To do so, however, he needs a bit of help. He can paint and maybe do some tiling, but woodwork and drywall is well beyond him, so he seeks the help of a local carpenter, Tommy Law.
Tommy is tall, dark, and undeniably handsome and there’s an instant rapport between the two men. They have more in common than their love of the house and they end up spending as much time talking together as working. They work so well together it’s almost as if they’ve known each other much longer than a day or two, and Tommy finds himself reluctant to leave. Especially considering the sudden spate of murders that are haunting Maplewood.
The opposite of love is indifference, and hatred is the perversion of love. There is something out there hunting lovers, something dark and stagnant and vengeful. The ghost of Victoria rests uneasily, her love torn from her arms. Now others are losing the ones they love and everywhere ears strain for the dripping of water …
This is more a horror story than a romance and I found myself enjoying both parts equally. There’s a touch of Steven King to the story and to the writing. The many and varied characters flesh out Maplewood, showing us both the good and the bad and the indifferent in people.
Hayden loved his husband very much, but it’s been a long year of recovery. He’s ready, not to move on or move past Malcolm, but to move forward. His feelings towards Tommy aren’t simply lust or infatuation, though he does move quickly from interest to infatuation to love, but the story has a reason for this, and it’s more than just “it’s been a year of celibacy.” I won’t go into details, here, but the speed of their relationship — it’s maybe a week from their first meeting to the end of the book — is seen as a strangeness even by Hayden and Tommy.
Tommy doesn’t identify as gay; he’s just not straight. Hayden interests him in a way the women he’s been with haven’t. He’s been isolated from the town due to his past as a very bad kid and his stint in the army as a Ranger. No one quite knows what to do with him and while he doesn’t mind the silent speculations of the town, it’s refreshing to have Hayden — who knows nothing of his past — look past the rough exterior to see the man inside. Tommy wants to protect Hayden who, considering the violence of his past year and the high stress of his work, is more than willing to curl up in Tommy’s arms and to let himself relax. Tommy makes Hayden feel safe, and Hayden makes Tommy feel wanted.
They’re a cute couple, and it’s hinted at the end that there’s a second book on the way. I hope, without the assistance of ghosts, Hayden and Tommy will be able to have the time to develop a relationship of their own. One where they’re not in fear of their lives or jumping at shadows.
As much as I did like this book there were a few things that took away from my enjoyment. Two of them are pet peeves for me, so take them with a grain of salt. The first, the clumsy segues between scenes of past and present. The second is the prophetic asides to readers: “Little did he know he’d never see her alive again,” or “This was the last time x would happen” It breaks any tension — vital for a horror story — and to compensate the author has to have a powerful scene to show us the death or the telegraphed scene, and it never quite worked. Feeley wasn’t able to recapture the mood and tone and it weakened the impact of those moments. Fortunately there were only two of them.
I loved the introduction of the geologist to study the lake; he and his team brought in seismographs and other tools to measure the tremors brought on by the shifting deep in the lake. They made the strangeness and the paranormal aspects of Lake Victoria feel even more ominous as they were able to discern that it was, in fact, a lake that shouldn’t exist by the rules of geography and geology. It added a depth or reality that made the unreal that much stronger.
Closer is a fun little horror story with a slow burning romance — Hayden and Tommy don’t even meet until around 23% of the way in, and don’t start really talking to each other for another few chapters or so — and some nice world building. There are a few deaths, though they’re not that graphic, and a few monstrous dead bodies, but they’re mostly made of water, so I’m not sure if they count as gore, or just flotsam. Either way, it’s a nice summer read.