Rating: 3.5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel


“I know so much about you,” gushes Rudi Laurier, the YouTuber and would be paranormal expert who claims to see the ghost of his childhood friend. Syd is a battered by life writer with some honest talent stuck working at a tabloid paper; it’s a dead end job and he knows it. He doesn’t want a partner, doesn’t want one last job. What he wants is to head to sunny California and pretend to work on the next great American horror novel until he dies. But Rudi is cute and charming, and his boss is paying for Syd to take him to investigate strange happenings at the Misty Mountain Motel. So it’s over the river and through the woods, and up the misty mountain they go.

There’s a haunted hotel calling to them, a diner with suspiciously familiar patrons, and a cursed lake. Is it aliens, ghosts, or some grand hoax? With a blizzard forcing Syd and Rudi out of the car and into the hotel for shelter, the pair of them have only one way to find out. Will they meet this mysterious slender man? The ghost of a haunted child? Maybe it’s aliens! If only Syd cared.

The book isn’t shy about setting up the framework. Rudi claims to knows so much and, at the same time, he knows absolutely nothing at all about Syd, giving us the first clue something is going on. As the scenes flip back and forth between points of view, we see the same event through two different eyes … and get two entirely different experiences. Which of them is the real one? Syd’s brusque car ride or the one where Rudi is already sensing a deeper connection and the potential of a romance between them? In the hotel, it only gets stranger as the two are separated and reunited … or are they? Is the Rudi that Syd is yelling at or hugging or comforting the real Rudi, or someone — or something else — taking his place?

Rudi is all whims and emotions, going from soft and sweet to whiny and sour. He’s always seen his best friend’s ghost (she died when they were children) and believes strongly in his paranormal gift. So strongly that, at times, he perhaps believes he knows more than he actually does. Rudi is flighty, trusting Syd’s strength and commanding leadership to take the lead rather than relying on his own feelings … and then upset when his own feelings aren’t trusted by Syd. All of this makes him sound like the most fainting flower of a damsel in distress, but what he really is at the heart of it is a frightened young man who has discovered that he’s in over his head. And Rudi has no idea if he’s falling in love with the man beside him, or the visions in his head.

Syd is cold, distant, and unpleasant on purpose. His father was an abusive drunk, beating Syd’s mother and then Syd, as well as locking Syd in a closet for hours as a child, leaving him with a fear of abandonment, claustrophobia, and the fear that he might be just as much a monster as his father. When Syd gets angry, he lashes out, often physically — such as when he pushes Rudi into a table. Or slams his face onto a pen hard enough for it to cut and bruise. It terrifies Syd and horrifies him, and the pressure of this paranormal prison, the powerlessness as rooms shift and time warps, and the constant storm outside isn’t helping. He knows he’s dangerous to Rudi, but he doesn’t want to be alone. He knows he hurt Rudi, and that Rudi has every right to tell him to fuck off … but there’s nowhere for either of them to go, and a monster in the walls that he has to try to protect Rudi from.

I regret the author made such a point to mention Tommynockers by Stephen King in this book. With that, and the many other King homages, I was already predisposed to two things: compare it directly to the King books, and ticking off on a mental checklist where the ideas in this book were drawn from. This book does several things well, but the constant call outs to King were detrimental to my reading experience, and that’s a shame. Instead of being its own work, it became something else, and not in a good way.

On its own, Syd facing his inner demons — the anger, the fear, the self-loathing, and the desire to be a better man than his father — is very well done. Obvious care was put into Syd, and it shows. Rudi’s erraticism is also nicely explored, his own fears, his own lack of confidence, and his own desire and need to attach himself to someone else for validation make his scenes interesting. And I appreciated the ending of this book, the open-endedness of it, very much. I just wish the author hadn’t put this book shoulder to shoulder with King’s works. This book is solid. The writing is steady, the pace … well, it’s hard to judge owing to the timey-wimey nature of the plot, but no scene drags on too long or feels compressed. Syd is a good character, Rudi’s story is well told, and I am very interested to try another book by this author.