Mason’s Run is the first book in a series by author Mellanie Rourke. I chose it for New-To-Me Author Week as part of our Reading Challenge Month because I was intrigued by the blurb, and am a sucker for both stories with disabled veterans and people overcoming horrific childhoods, including abuse. Having never heard of the author before, I wanted to see if a first-time author with a self published book would live up to the hype of so many 4-5 star reviews.
Please note the second line of the blurb says Mason is “used, abused, and sold for sex.” This is very much on the page; consider it your trigger warning.
Okay, to sum up, there are two prologues. One features Mason as a pre-teen being inexplicably remanded to his uncle’s custody after his caring, but addicted, mom overdosed and died. His Uncle Ricky is one of Milwaukee’s most dangerous pimps, specializing in underage prostitutes, and 11-year-old Mason is raped by both Ricky and his business/life partner, Dreyven, the instant the social worker shuts the door. Somehow, Mason isn’t reported to DCFS, despite rarely attending school, and is continually returned to Ricky anytime he tries to escape. He’s beaten, pimped, locked in a closet, and nearly killed when he makes a run at age 18 while trying to save Ricky’s newest “whore,” a nine-year-old girl Ricky took from a dead junkie. Three days later, Ricky and Dreyven find Mason, only to rape him, beat him senseless, break his arm, tie him to the bed, and sell his body to anyone who wants a piece—all before they plan to kill him.
The other prologue features Lee’s heartbreak and injury in a skirmish in Afghanistan, watching his secret fiancé, a Navy pilot named Mack, die in battle. Lee survived the firefight, but only in body. He’s has permanent injuries, with severe depression. He retires from service and becomes an Uber driver. Taking some vets to Milwaukee from Ohio for Thanksgiving, he responds to an ad for a sexy escort, only to find Mason’s broken, near-lifeless body in the hotel room. Outraged and fearing for Mason’s life, Lee makes a decision that frees Mason and puts both of them on separate paths to recovery.
When the story actually starts, it’s eight-ish years later. Lee’s younger twin brothers are opening a comic shop and the star attraction is a reclusive LGBTQ artist named Mason Cameron. It’s a small pseudonym, but it’s the real man. Lee’s immediately drawn to the anxiety-prone author, and not sure why. After only a day or so in his company, Lee makes the connection—and Mason’s best-selling Dark Angel graphic novel reveals some of the horror both of them experienced in that Milwaukee hotel room. Lee is caught in a bad spot: he’s attracted to Mason—a feeling he suspects is mutual. Should he tell Mason he was the dark angel that rescued him? Mason has lived a sheltered life since his escape, always fearing that Dreyven might find him and take vengeance for what happened to Ricky. He was too scared to testify back when he was 18, but he’s finally finding courage to right the wrongs he’d survived—with the help of Lee’s admiration and the affection of Lee’s generous family.
Honestly, this story was just okay. It had some real issues with pacing, repetition, timeline, historical facts, and coincidence. First, I’m not sure when Uber got to be a popular thing, but Lee seemed to have been driving for them in Akron, OH for more years than it could have been really possible. Second, the towering number of coincidences really drove me over the edge. Lee travels hundreds of miles, encounters a random prostitute, saves his very life, then happens to reconnect eight years later when the near-dead, uneducated young man is now a college grad and a prolific artist/writer? The timeline was frustrating, because I didn’t think it added up—and that made me leave the story to search arcane facts like enlistment years for Navy personnel and when Uber became a thing. Causing me to leave your story to research your facts means I’m distracted because the plot has weird holes.
Mason has had a bad, bad life. I got that from the first two pages of his prologue. So much of what I read felt extremely preachy, and this was regarding child sex work! No reader is going to think Ricky or Dreyven are redeemable, so we didn’t need so much graphic brutality spelled out on the page. I felt inured in it, and that made it seem trite. Overexplaining was a continual problem for me, as it routinely slowed the pace of the story.
Speaking of convenience, it was astronomical (to me) that Mason could have encountered both his savior and his abuser as a free adult, within days of one another in such a random place. This happened over and over again. Mason is conveniently returned to his abusers. Mason is conveniently rescued. Mason is conveniently rescued again. Mason is returned to his abuser. I get that there are horrible people, and sometimes they have inexplicable power, but the logical side of me cannot abide with such cyclical horror. I’m a mandated reporter, and it was unbelievable to me that no one—not even the social worker assigned to Mason’s case—ever checked on his enrollment in school, or his welfare at all.
The love affair between Mason and Lee happens fast, with Mason feeling sexual attraction for the first time as an adult. He’s overwhelmed and Lee is a compassionate lover, trying to help him through his very natural, yet foreign, feelings. That was all sweet, but again, the time frame was fraught, for me. Was it two days before they were making out, and barely more before they were making love? How does a reclusive, sex abuse survivor with chronic impotence fall so hard, so fast?
The climax seemed unimaginable. Like, the chances of it happening in that way were so infinitesimally slim, I was dumbfounded. I really don’t want to spoil it, but I was shrugging and rolling my eyes at how Mason could have been such a target for catastrophe. The big comeuppance scenes also seemed unlikely, as law enforcement wouldn’t let such things come to pass, for fear of weakening the cases against the perpetrators. The book seemed like an after school cautionary tale come to life, and the continued lack of realism just undercut what enjoyment I had in the story.
It seems clear that the next stories will all surround Lee’s family, as Twin Peeks is his brothers’ bookstore and the entire family is LGBTQ. This was made abundantly clear by all the plot-slowing tangents into the lives of Lee’s five siblings, who each have trauma and drama to go forth and learn from, while also finding love. While I liked Lee’s family a lot, I don’t think I’ll pursue future stories in this series.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for New-to-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a bundle of fabulous books donated by Carina Press! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on New-to-Me Author Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.