Over his twenty-year career as an adventure travel writer, Rob Hanson has seen and experienced a lot. Most recently, it was an act of gun violence in Somalia that left a man dead. Perhaps Rob’s life is too exciting at times. When his agent suggests a fluff piece about the secluded Marsh Island on the western seaboard of Canada, Rob readily agrees. When he realizes the place is by and large off the grid–no splashy tourist websites or reviews from visitors–his curiosity is greatly piqued. But Rob’s first run in with a surly local, the one who runs the ferry that transports mainlanders to the island, has him treading with caution. Rob quickly learns that the people of Marsh Island are fiercely protective of their island culture. They tolerate the handful of tourists for the commerce they bring, but largely want as little as possible to do with outsiders.
While the ferry operator gives Rob the cold shoulder, a run in with the island vet is a bit more fruitful. The vet suggests that Rob seek out the weekly open air market and talk to the woodcarver. If anyone can help Rob capture the appeal and allure of the island, it would be the woodcarver. But Rob is in for a huge surprise when he finally meets Mitch Carcross. Not only is the man incredibly attractive and tremendously talented, he’s also a fan of Rob’s work…and the little brother of the man who broke Rob’s heart years ago. Nothing can stop the sparks from flying and soon, Rob and Mitch have a very good thing going. At least until Mitch’s brother and Rob’s jealous ex, Kevin, comes for a visit and starts sowing the seeds of doubt. It doesn’t take long for the misunderstandings to start chilling the passion between Mitch and Rob. And when Rob’s most recent excitement in Somalia comes knocking on the door at the same time Rob’s Marsh Island article gets published in a highly altered format, it will take all Rob has to prove he’s worthy of Mitch.
The Woodcarver’s Model looks to be author Peter E. Fenton’s debut novel. It boasts a sprawling and diverse cast of melodramatic characters that offer tough love, outrageous propositions, dastardly deeds, and more. The plot itself is built around a jet-setting main character who criss-crosses Canada as he juggles his Marsh Island assignment and the fallout caused by his ex meddling in Rob’s and Mitch’s affairs. There are almost as many threads in the plot as there are characters who crop up in it. Overall, I think Fenton does a fair job tying the MCs and main supporting characters to all the events reasonably well. That said, I thought the author really dropped the ball on the timing of events. As I read the story, it felt like mere days had passed, but every now and again characters would mention it had been a week or sometimes several. This happened often in the book; I just could not get a bead on how much time was supposed to have passed. It was jarring to think it was only two days and the characters are talking like weeks have passed. The other big quibble I had was the tone of the book. My first impressions of Rob were of a suave, snobbish man used to being in command. He knows exactly how attractive he is and knows his exciting job has made him pretty elite. Hell, he even seemed to literally forget he has a sister, that’s how self-centered he is. For someone too cool for his own sister, it felt odd to see him become bashful and shy around Mitch, then to fall into instalove with him.
I wasn’t a big fan of the deluge of events in the book. Too many events divided my attention and made it harder for me to get invested in the book and the characters. The whole Somalia-murder thread, for example, did not seem necessary at all. Yes, that thread did help build up my first impression of Rob as BAMF. It also sowed a seed for future possible trouble with the law. It even came into play as one of the events in Rob’s life that Mitch’s brother leverages to make Mitch doubt Rob’s really in love with Mitch. However, it always was and ultimately turns out to be a nothing burger. In short, I had a hard time feeling engaged with this and other events that had little connection to the present situation of Rob and Mitch’s relationship and to Marsh Island.
If nothing else, at least there was the overarching, whirlwind romance between Rob and Mitch to tie some things together. Readers who live instalove and enjoy out and confident characters will likely appreciate how Rob and Mitch meet one morning, have sex that night, then basically decide to live together the next day. (Or at least, that was how the timeline came across to me.) To me, Fenton’s most successful plot device was using Mitch’s brother, Kevin, as a foil to the romance. By revealing early-on that Mitch and Kevin were brothers, that Rob and Kevin had a history, and that Kevin has issues all worked very well when Kevin started to drop small (then huge) hints that Rob was No Damn Good. And it worked, which was the catalyst to the big misunderstanding that drives Rob and Mitch apart. The aftermath is less clean and less satisfying, but it was a promising build up.
Personally, I thought this story was okay, but it seemed to sacrifice deeper development of its main themes in order to incorporate more stuff. The characters were interesting, but a bit inconsistent in how they were presented. The plot was overfull of action, some of which felt noticeably superfluous to the main events in what is basically an instalove story. And there were more than a few times where I thought the narration got needlessly verbose describing the minutiae of very minor characters who were only needed to move specific elements of the overfull plot forward.