Barker is a part-time librarian living paycheck to paycheck until a chance friendship gives him the opportunity for a new job, a new life, and a new love. David Claire, the older gentleman who owns the Northshire Inn, finds something in Barker worth a second glance, and a second chance, and an abiding friendship is born between the men.
At the inn, Barker does a bit of everything. The chores, the books and the bookings, the driving and fetching and carrying. He’s also privy to the secrets of the many guests who pass through, such as the would-be adult actors, the local rock star who goes missing, the horror writer and his odd comings and goings, the Mennonite who comes to visit the inn to mourn his lost mother, and, of course, the ghosts. There are several ghostly spirits who come and go, ranging from the pale woman in room 112, to Royce O’Cannon, whose ephemeral touch leaves Barker both aroused and afraid.
Of all the guests and ghosts, there’s only one man Barker really has eyes for and that’s Cal Pipp, a maintenance man who does the plumbing, the painting, and the bits of this and that that Barker’s too busy for. But is there a chance Cal will ever see Barker as something more than a friend?
There’s not really much to this novella. There’s no overarching story, no character growth, and for all the sex happening at the inn, there’s precious little actually going on. This novella is more a slice of life — with ghosts — than a story. It’s interconnected vignettes of Barker’s time at the inn, a time which just so happens to have a missing man, drugs, debauchery, and a few discoveries here and there. Barker is a laid back man nearing his 40s, but not there yet, who likes his job and likes the parade of new people to watch. It’s part of his friendliness that allows him to reach out to a friend of a friend and do what, to him, is a small favor for Cal’s niece. That small favor ends up being the match that lights the spark between he and Cal.
Cal is genial and good-natured, but his first priority is his niece, who happens to be autistic. She needs him, and he’s going to be there for her. He likes Barker — who doesn’t? — but he isn’t certain if what’s between them is just a friendly flirtation, of if there’s the chance of something more. But when Barker goes out of his way to make Cal’s sister happy, Cal decides that it’s okay for him to be happy, too. And what makes him happy is Barker as his boyfriend, not just a co-worker.
This is a light enough book, but there are some bits that distract from what could have been a fluffy story. The writing is stiff and very repetitive and very much favors style over story. There are several instances of incorrect word choices (pealed instead of peeled) and some odd grammatical issues. While I’m far from an expert and am hardly innocent of my own punctuation indiscretions, I found the near-constant use of the semicolon to be really, really distracting as it broke up sentences. That, combined with the sentence fragments and abrupt transitions, made me more aware of the writing than the story.
Barker does have a pleasant and unique voice, and some of the style choices are probably just his personality coming through, but it’s not one that I clicked with. In some ways, I regret the focus on the ghosts because I think the moments where Barker was spying on the inn’s guests were more interesting than the missing person mystery. It felt as if there was a strong tongue-in-cheek delivery, but for me, the tone wasn’t enough for me to connect with this book.