Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

As a child, Elijah “Eli“ Gray survived a horrific car accident that left his mother dead and him seeing strange shadows. Now thirty years old, Eli just wants to keep his head down and his rescue cat, Gus, fed. The minimum wage job he has at the local dollar store mostly keeps him afloat. He can buy his cat food and toys, manages to pay rent each month and mostly keeps his overachieving uncle off his back. Life may not be perfect, but it’s about as good as Eli thinks it’s going to get–especially considering he probably should have died in the crash with his mother. Too bad one of his coworkers seems to have it out for Eli, making work unbearable. On top of that, his own uncle starts making noise about Eli finally doing something with the house his late mother left to him and where the car accident occurred. For years, Eli was content to let the house sit empty, with just a caretaker to see to it. But with work woes and his uncle talking about investing or divesting, Eli decides to go all in on the house with the hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast.

Being the new caretaker for a rundown house in Arson City was supposed to be hands-on and easy. That’s just Wade Jenkins’ speed since he’s been living from temp job to seasonal job to temp job ever since his parents kicked him out for being gay. Even better? There are rumors of buried treasure. Wade’s plans to scour the grounds with a metal detector looking for riches get hampered when the owner, Eli, arrives on scene with the intent to live there full time. Wade’s easy caretaker job evaporates before his very eyes, but at least the family is giving him three months’ severance. And it’s not a total wash; Wade feels an instant attraction to Eli–one that has Wade offering to stay and work until his contract is officially up. Together, he and Eli begin tackling repairs to the old house. Only now that Eli is present, weird things start happening. A decorative ceiling medallion falls just after Wade walks under it; Eli hears constant drips and taps, even though the faucets are not leaking and there are no bushes or trees close enough to touch the house. Wade is convinced there are rational explanations for all the oddities. That is until an accident befalls Gus, leaving no doubt that something sinister is going on. But rather than cutting his losses, Wade is surprised that he feels more than simple attraction for Eli. Learning about the mysteries swirling around the house, experiencing paranormal activity, and just sharing the same space bring Eli and Wade grow closer. But as they uncover more and more pieces to the puzzle of the house’s history, a dark picture begins to emerge. Just as they start to unravel the mystery, Eli and Wade will have to contend with evil on several fronts if they hope to survive.

The Extraordinary Locket of Elijah Gray is part of the Carnival of Mysteries multi-author collection. Author Kayleigh Sky creates a delightful liminal space that is mostly set in the modern day on a nearly abandoned house on an island. The aesthetics of the setting and the name of the city really help sell the tone of this thriller/mystery story. In addition to the main story, there is a side plot that explores the lives and experiences of different characters and serves as sort of a creation myth for Eli’s house. Taken together, the side story offers a lot of “aha” moments for puzzling things that happen in the present-day timeline. I thought these two aspects of the story balanced each other very well, adding emotional impact that was so bittersweetly sorrowful. (But in case you were worried, there is a HEA for our main MCs.)

I would say the story is fundamentally a horror story. I loved how the creepy vibes are encompassing and immersive. Eeriness shoots through virtually every aspect of the book. From the beginning, it’s clear that Eli has some sort of paranormal activity in his life. A baseline level of spookiness is established from the get-go when we meet Eli and the “smudge” that appears and disappears in his apartment–one that even his cat, Gus, seems to see and has scars for eyes when it’s at its most visible. When Eli moves to the house he inherited from his mother, the plausible deniability of ghosts continues with more consistent strange things happening. It starts with water dripping, but no water leaks being found; it continues with windows being tapped on, but nothing is there to tap on the windows. If you enjoy a long build up of weird happenings in your horror, I think you’ll really enjoy how the creepy things unfold in this book. In particular, I loved how the ghosts figure into the story. There are two notable ghosts, the one with scars for eyes and the one that searches the caretaker’s cottage Wade stays in. As noted above, these two supporting characters make strong impressions and, by the time we get to the end of the story, what they represent is just brought into magnificent focus.

As far as romance goes, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about Eli and Wade. From their first meeting, there are inklings of at least physical appreciation, if not outright attraction. That said, I didn’t feel like these two had very good chemistry at first. Even after they give into their attraction and sleep with each other, there didn’t seem to be enough to form the basis of lasting relationship. Just when I felt like they were warming up to each other and admitting to themselves that they liked having the other one around, an accident occurs and sends Eli and Wade’s relationship back temporarily. (Note about Gus: If pets coming to harm in a work of fiction is a trigger for you, then please know that Gus comes out of this unscathed.) Despite the distance I felt existed between Eli and Wade, as the story progresses and the paranormal events turn more serious, along with the mystery of the house getting darker, I feel like they grow together. By the end of the book, they seem to have formed a cohesive unit and it felt both surprisingly natural, but also surprisingly “how did we get here”?

Overall, I was delighted by the tone of the book and the general quality of the writing. There are a few instances where the timeline feels like it skips around a bit (most notably at the end, where one paragraph ends with a kiss in the parking lot of a grocery store and the next has Eli naked and bent like a pretzel ready for whatever Wade’s going to give him in bed…a bit of a jump for me). Nevertheless, the way the past and present timelines flow around Eli and the house make this for a very compelling read. Once Eli and Wade come to terms with the idea that the ghosts are really real and out to get them, the thriller aspect kicks up several notches and that feels like it’s well mirrored in the mood of the story, too. If you’re a fan of horror, like feeling terrified, enjoy watching two people fall for each other despite horrible circumstances and learn to trust each other despite bad things happening, and happy endings for everyone (even if they’re tinges with sadness), then I highly recommend The Extraordinary Locket of Elijah Gray.