Rating: 4.25 stars
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Ever since he was a little boy, Edwin Masters wanted to own an Alfa Romeo. But his life took some hard turns; he fell into addiction and clawed his way out. At forty-seven years old, Edwin now works as a pharmacist and volunteers at a shelter, trying and hoping that he’ll be there for another person who is ready to end the vicious cycle of substance abuse. Edwin has also finally saved up enough money and spent the last two years trawling estate sales and the like to make his childhood dream come true. And all that patience pays off when he finds the James estate sale with a mint-condition, 1962 Alfa Romeo Spider 2600 for sale. Shivers run down his spine when he slips behind the wheel because he’s excited—but there’s also a hint of something…darker.
Edwin tries to write it off as nerves. It’s not easy to drop thirty grand all at once. He decides to go out with his neighbors and celebrate, where he meets a young, aspiring restaurateur named Carson Heston. Edwin and Carson hit it off immediately, but just when things start to get hot, Carson bolts. Edwin chalks it up to the age difference and tries to let go. He also tries to forget the chills, literal and figurative, that keep dancing up and down his skin. At first, they only happen when he’s around the car, but soon, he gets the impression he’s being followed no matter where he is. Then, he meets Cooper James. In his car. While he’s driving. Edwin tries to write off the sudden appearance of the lithe young man as a hallucination, but the longer he interacts with Cooper, the more he realizes that Cooper can be just as real as Edwin—at least when they are in the Alfa Romeo. Whatever ulterior motives Cooper may have, Edwin can’t help but feel good around him.
After a false start, Carson realizes that he isn’t ready to give up on Edwin, not without a fight. He knows he and Edwin have a connection. If only he can convince Edwin that his age doesn’t make him any less of a catch. If only he can convince Edwin that Cooper doesn’t love Edwin, but that Cooper covets Edwin’s life.
Wow. So, first, this seems to be a rerelease (Goodreads indicates this title was published first in 2009 through Loose ID). Next, this is a more complicated story that I thought it was going to be! Based on the blurb, I expected Cooper to be an anthropomorphized car (!) and thought that would be a fun challenge to read. Reader, I was only right on that second point. Cooper presents as a garden variety ghost, albeit one semi-stuck haunting the vehicle of his demise. Although his manifestation was more traditional, the character himself and his relationship with/to Edwin was delightfully complex. After Cooper’s death, his car was kept under lock and key nearly constantly, but a relative seems to have forced Cooper to stay attached to that isolated car. When Edwin finally buys the car, Cooper has the chance to make contact with someone. From that angle, it is easy to develop sympathy for Cooper. And he does have a lot of access to Edwin, first because they both are in the proximity of the car, but later it seems that their mutual appreciation of the car is enough to let Cooper stay with Edwin.
That said, it’s pretty clear Cooper is the (somewhat unintentional) bad guy. It was pretty interesting to follow along and see Cooper make concessions here and there in an effort to convince/keep Edwin. For example, Cooper first tries to straight up cock-block Carson/Edwin, but later capitulates because Edwin really does like Carson…and Cooper really does seem to want to keep Edwin happy. Later, when one of Cooper’s offers to “make Edwin feel good” leads to some serious health issues for Edwin, Cooper comes across as being genuinely sorry. Of course, there is some truly beyond-the-pale behavior, as well. I am no expert, but Cooper sounds like he takes advantage of Edwin’s past addiction to manipulate Edwin into spending time with Cooper. Sometimes, Cooper sounds like a broken record on that topic. There are also two escalatory scenes, one in which Cooper has clearly manipulated Edward into a “nooner” (is that what the kids today call a lunch-break boning session?) that ends with a significant health scare for Edwin and another that depicts on-page (but not extremely graphic) sexual abuse. The overall effect made it hard for me to just hate Cooper on sight, but also left me with an increasing sense of despair that Edwin wouldn’t be able to break free.
For the first half of the book, the Carson/Edwin romance felt a lot less “present” to me. Part of this was due, I think, to the way their first meeting was depicted (Edwin very conscious of being 47 and Carson being mid- to late-20s) and the way their hook up fizzled out (due to Cooper). They get a do-over and the characters seemed to make a much better connection for it. This is also how Carson learns about Cooper for himself, by seeing the ghost with his own eyes. I thought this development worked extremely well and let the side plot of Carson-tries-to-help-Edwin unfold without having to get Edwin to convince Carson that Cooper is a ghost and he is real. Despite a cool beginning, I think I really started to appreciate Carson in the aftermath of Cooper abusing Edwin (that whole scene just encapsulates the complexity of the relationships here). Espinoza could have turned it into a blow out angst bomb, but instead, she let Carson prove he is definitely capable of being the kind of partner Edwin needs—one who will listen and accept and help Edwin face life head-on.
Overall, this was an interesting read. There is a get-together happening between Carson and Edwin and I really liked how this developed in the second half of the book. Even so, the ghost in the story sort of steals the show most of the time. We get a happily ever after, but it’s the kind that leaves the reader wondering if it’s really the end. Nothing ominous seems to happen, but the resolution is such a short on-page thing, I can’t help but wonder…is Edwin really free? Espinoza touches on themes of addiction (very present) and rape and works them into the story to great effect, highlighting how these events impact the characters. I would not hesitate to recommend this story to anyone who wants to read a horror/ghost story that is more complicated than just “ghosts are scary and bad.”