Author Tara Lain delivers a clever adaptation of Hansel and Gretel in her latest story, Holding Hans, the second novel in her Ever After, New York series. Previous characters are mentioned here in the second book, but not to any extent that a reader would get lost if they picked this book up first. All the novels thus far have been set in the imaginary town of Ever After where there is plenty of small town gossip, slightly strange characters, and a surprising amount of crime—at least in this installment.
Hans and his sister, Greta, live from paycheck to paycheck since their mother died and their father seems unable to be responsible enough to pay down the debt held against their mortgage—much of which was accrued while paying their mother’s doctor bills. Hans is a gifted pianist who is woefully shy, a high school dropout (he left to care for his mother and to escape constant bullying), and now contributes to paying off the sizable debt by giving private lessons. His sister and twin, Greta, is a brilliant chemist who forwent going to college in order to help Hans handle the bank foreclosure on their house. When their father up and announces he is getting married to a strange woman and that they will go together to Germany where a sudden surprise inheritance is awaiting his presence, the kids are left on their own. With only ten days to make payment arrangements before the bank takes the house, one catastrophe happens after another until they are forced to rent the house to cover the repayments and end up homeless.
Then they find Madame Cournoir and her lavish mansion in the woods and before they can blink, she has offered them a place to stay, complete with a laboratory for Greta to work in. But something is very fishy about Madame and the deal she offers them. Before long, the only other young woman in the house disappears and Hans is certain something is not right, but he can’t convince Greta to leave, as she is absolutely obsessed with her new job in Madame’s lab. If it weren’t for the gorgeous gardener, Rune, who is attracted to Hans and vice versa, Hans would be all alone. But Rune is also hiding something from Hans, making him very uncertain who he can trust.
Sticking quite closely to the basic fairy tale story of old, this marvelous take on that old gem is rife with mystery, danger, and romance. Every time poor Hans turns around, someone else is trying to convince him he may be in danger, but he really is stuck with nowhere to turn; even when his father returns from Germany, the new stepmother is there and she is just a bit off in more ways than one. Then there is Rune, who is constantly pumping Hans for information about the nightly dinner guests Madame has at her home, as well as trying to get Hans to leave Greta behind and get somewhere safe. Poor Hans is pulled in all kinds of directions, first toward staying with the twin he loves, then toward his old home where his beloved piano awaits him, and finally toward Rune, who has made him feel alive and wanted for the first time ever.
With a heart in throat kind of pace, Holding Hans moves swiftly toward conclusion and it is right up to the end before the reader knows for sure if Hans and Rune are going to make it out alive. I really enjoy this kind of mystery/romance. It just flew off the page for me and is so highly entertaining. The romance is sweet, the mystery involved, and the action non-stop. A definite five-star read for me.