Toby has been making bad decisions for some time now, ever since he was dumped by his ex. From drinking too much and too often — each day it seems he starts drinking earlier and earlier — to finding random, faceless, and nameless bed to fuck, it’s not uncommon for Toby to wake up in a strange room with no memory of the night before, with only a bad taste in his mouth and a crawl of shame back to his filthy, empty apartment.
When a tall, dark, and handsome stranger (even if he is in his 60s) offers Toby a chance at a new apartment in a neighborhood a large step up from his current flat, Toby sees it as a chance to turn his life around. To stop drinking (so much), to stop the faceless hookups in bars, to get back to his writing before he loses any chance he had at being a respectable journalist … it’s perfect.
Darkwater House is an old, graceful house filled with a plethora of sad and lonely characters: Susan, the single mom who drinks more than Toby does; Sean, the handsome neighbor with an ass that won’t quit and a dark look on his face whenever he sees Toby in the hall; and, of course, Albert Darkwater himself.
Toby has a drinking problem brought on by an ex-problem. When Joe left him, he turned to the bottle, and when drunk he became belligerent and unpleasant. The more he drank, the fewer friends he had until he was alone, and bitter because of it. But he’s trying, now. Cutting back on the drinking, trying to cut back on the casual sex. Toby can’t tell if it helps or hurts that his neighbor — the handsome and straight Sean, with his Irish accent — is just Toby’s type. Albert’s heavy-handed flirting leaves Toby feeling unsettled, however, and he finds himself hoping to avoid his new landlord when possible. Sean, whose breakup is more recent, is no stranger to the occasional fling, here and there. And, as it turns out, he’s not a stranger to the occasional man, either. But he sees them as one-offs, as sexual partners only, not lovers or boyfriends. When Toby catches him out, Sean’s response is to deck him. From there things can only get more interesting.
Toby and Sean start out on a purely physical level as two men who want to get laid, who find the other man attractive, and who aren’t interested in rings and rose petals. But with the mystery of the red-haired woman haunting the grounds, with their shared stories about Albert sneaking into their apartments, trying to blackmail Toby into offering sexual favors to cover the rent and making passes at them, they soon find themselves almost friends. Friends who might become something more … but there’s a mystery that needs to be solved, a landlord who needs to be dealt with, and, of course, the ghost.
Welcome to October! What better book to start the month with than a haunted house, a pair of handsome men, a tragic romance, and a dash or two of raw, passionate lust? The writing in this story is lovely. The pace is bright and brisk and I enjoyed pretty much all of it. While I found the character development — especially from Sean, who we see only through Toby’s biased and lust-filled gaze — to be a bit diffuse and lackluster, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the story and the set up and reveal of the mystery. None of Toby’s problems are ever really dealt with, the drinking or the depression, and while he and Sean have an instant physical connection, they spend more time on the mystery than building up a relationship between them.
Toby is an asshole, for much of the book. He can’t seem to not say abrasive, rude, and hurtful things to Sean, who then responds by kicking him out or walking out. Which means Sean starts every conversation with an apology for his actions, while not expecting — or receiving one — from Toby. And yet, for all of that, they do have what feels like the solid foundation of a connection that could easily turn into something more substantial. How I wish this was a series, I’d so like to see more of Sean and Toby. The mood and setting feel almost more on that line of thriller rather than horror, but — as someone who enjoys both — this book does what it does so very well.