Every so often I step out of my comfort zone, if you will, and read something completely different from my usual m/m romance genre. I hadn’t read a really good horror story in years—until I picked up Willow Man by John Inman.
Author: John Inman
Publisher: DSP Publications
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Woody Stiles has sung his country songs in every city on the map. His life is one long road trip in a never-ending quest for fame and fortune. But when his agent books him into a club in his hometown, a place he swore he would never set foot again, Woody comes face to face with a few old demons. One in particular.
With memories of his childhood bombarding him from every angle, Woody must accept the fact that his old enemy, Willow Man, was not just a figment of childish imagination.
With his friends at his side, now all grown up just like he is, Woody goes to battle with the killer that stole his childhood lover. Woody also learns Willow Man has been busy while he was away, destroying even more of Woody’s past. And in the midst of all this drama, Woody is stunned to find himself falling in love—something he never thought he would do again.
As kids, Woody and his friends could not stop the killer who lived in the canyon where they played. As adults, they might just have a chance.
Or will they?
Note: Though this is a horror story and depiction of violent events is wholly expected and accepted, readers who experience triggers should check the tags on this review before choosing this title.
Country singer Woody Stiles has been struggling to attain some semblance of fame for years. When his agent books him a gig in his hometown of San Diego, Woody reluctantly returns. A paying gig is a paying gig, despite the painful memories that it might dredge up. However, more is dredged up than just a difficult past. When Woody realizes that a horrific evil from his childhood still lingers within the canyon just beyond his back door, he will have to overcome more than just memories in order to survive.
Brilliantly told through a series of flashbacks and in varying character points of view, Willow Man by John Inman is as much a spellbinding and intense horror story as it is a tender, coming of age tale about the discovery of young love. The balance between evil and innocence is delicate and beautifully wrought, written in enthralling prose that grabbed me at the prologue and wouldn’t allow me to look back. Images are lush and vivid, whether describing the soft, pliant skin of youthful encounters or vile, grisly acts of depravity.
The reader is introduced to Woody as an adult singing his heart out during his latest performance and subsequently taken on a journey with him into the past as he returns to San Diego, opens the door to his childhood home, and is flooded with images of his youth. These scenes are particularly captivating as we follow Woody through the house, seeing, smelling, and hearing snippets of his life as a young boy growing up. As the memories well up, thick and tangent, so does our empathy for Woody, the sensory details wrapping us in nostalgia and longing. With his parents murdered years before, he is alone and coping with the absence of his family—and the possible presence of something sinister. We know from the get-go that something happened in Woody’s youth, something monstrous and devastating. We just have to be patient and let the story unfold.
As the truth of the past is gradually revealed through carefully rendered flashbacks and dreams, the reader is introduced to thirteen-year-old Woody, his parents, and his group of friends, including his best friend and love interest, Bobby. These recollections are numerous and substantial, eloquently providing the reader with vibrant details of the children’s rambles and relationships during that fateful summer amidst the shadows of the canyon. The innocence and sexual discovery captured within these images are profound and honest, and the children’s actions reflect a teenage imperviousness, a realistic pre-occupation with puberty, and a rather dangerous sense of adventure. Yet frightening events begin to occur as evil permeates the joyful ease and simplicity of youth, an evil that continues to torment Woody’s present-day adulthood as he settles back into his parents’ home and begins his gig at a local club.
Woody’s re-connection with his friends of that long-ago summer brings that threat into clearer focus. As we get to know the adults that these children have become, the flashbacks continue to provide the narrative of what really happened through various points of view, growing more graphic in horrific detail and violence. Any negative impact these events may have had on the characters as children, however, does not seem to exist in their present, which is a bit hard to believe. I would have liked to know how they coped through their adolescence, having witnessed such horrors. In spite of this concern, the group and its dynamics are appealing. We are treated to some comic relief through their personalities, both as children and adults, and they are all engaging, interesting, and tug at the heartstrings for their own individual reasons. They are bold and clearly delineated, and the dialogue ranges from funny to poignant as the nature of the friendship is solidified and memories are shared. As the evil in the canyon is confronted, both in their childhood memories and as adults, the reader is treated to examples of how the bonds of love and friendship that exist in both the past and the present can strengthen, evolve, and surpass even our own understanding.
This is a true horror story, laced with m/m and brief m/f romance. The juxtaposition of the two is well done, though a couple of the intimate scenes feel a bit out of place for the context of the events that are occurring. That being said, the sensual encounters are beautifully written, particularly between Woody and Bobby, which are rich with gorgeous, tentative steps of exploration. The scenes these two share stand out as my favorites in the book and bear a stark contrast to the dark, gruesome acts carried out in other parts of the story. Mr. Inman’s ability to write both so effectively is impressive, as he tenderly melts the heart one moment and viciously stabs it the next.
Overall, the tone and craft of Willow Man is exceptional. It reads like a horror movie plays, dark and foreboding, laden with suspense and peppered with humor. As the innocence of youth is stripped away piece by piece with each horrific event even more terrifying than the last, the reader is swept along in the perfectly paced narrative and left breathless by the end. The star of this show, however, is Mr. Inman’s portrayal of the blossoming of young love and how that beautiful emotion, with its enduring goodness and purity, may even triumph over the foulest evil imaginable.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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