A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: A satisfying and witty story with a strong sense of place, a creepy mystery, and a very lovable protagonist.
***Review contains a spoiler that has been whited out***
Will Golding needs a break from his usual routine, and he’s been looking forward to a holiday helping Baz, his friend-with-benefits, research a book about Isle of Wight ghosts. When an evening beach walk turns into a startling encounter with Marcus Devereux, Will can’t get his mind off the notoriously reclusive writer’s pale, perfect, naked body. And any interest in ghostly legends takes a back seat to the haunting secrets lying in Marcus’s past.
Marcus, painfully aware of his appearance, is accustomed to keeping to himself. But the memory of tall, athletic Will standing on the beach draws him out from behind defenses he’s maintained since age fourteen, when his parents were murdered. While his heart is hungry for human contact, though, his longtime guardian warns him that talking to anyone—particularly a journalist like Baz—is as dangerous as a day in the sun.
As Baz gets closer to the truth, the only thing adding up is the sizzling attraction between Will and Marcus. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that someone wants to let sleeping secrets lie…or Will and Baz could end up added to the island’s ghostly population.
Will and his best friend and occasional lover Baz have come to the Isle of Wight to research a book about local ghosts. Well, Baz is writing the book and Will gets to act as his personal chauffeur and provide a bit of R&R. They’ve been friends since childhood and Will has always carried a torch for Baz, who’s straight but enjoys the odd blowjob or two. While Baz hooks up with a girl from their campsite, Will takes a night-time stroll at a private beach and gets the shock of his life when he sees a gorgeous naked ‘ghost’ swimming in the sea.
Baz hasn’t been completely honest about his book research. As they travel the length and breadth of the island visiting schools, houses, former hospitals and pubs in search of spooky stories, Will realises that Baz keeps asking questions about the reclusive gothic horror author Marcus Devereux. When Baz finally squeezes out an invitation to visit Marcus’ home, a former Napoleonic-era fort on the cliffs with a tunnel down to the beach—and, of course, a few ghosts—Will is embarrassed to find that his sexy naked ‘ghost’ of the other night is in fact Marcus.
Marcus has albinism and its associated conditions, which have led him to become a recluse and to stay out of sunlight. His parents are dead—when he was 14, his mother was murdered by his father, who then took his own life—and since then he’s been raised by his former headmaster and guardian, Leif Jonsson. Asocial and ashamed of his looks, Marcus inherited a fortune but is also a successful novelist. He knows Leif is trying to control his life, but he and Leif share a bond that he can’t bear to break—until Will comes into his life.
Marcus is attracted to Will from the very start. Tall, hunky and athletic, Will is everything that Marcus isn’t. But Marcus is scared to let Will in and tries to keep him at a distance, even when Marcus twists his ankle and Will comes to his aid. Will is fascinated by his gorgeous ‘ghost’ and gradually begins to fall for Marcus, much to Baz’s irritation, but then Leif discovers that his ward has been talking to outsiders. Leif tells Marcus to stop seeing Will, especially when he discovers that Baz—who’s also a journalist—is asking questions about the deaths of Marcus’ parents. Marcus wants to trust Will, but he doesn’t want to disobey his guardian. Leif has always looked after him, but he doesn’t want to be lonely forever.
As Baz continues his investigations, accidents start occurring—accidents that could prove fatal for both Will and Baz. Marcus has to make a decision about the direction of his life, and when he turns to Will, terrible secrets are brought out into the open and nothing will ever be the same again…
When Wave offered me Wight Mischief I jumped at it because I’d been on the Island only a few months ago and it’s such a quirky little place that I knew I was going to love a story set there. And also, it’s J.L. Merrow, and I always enjoy her work. This is no exception, I really loved this book. There’s a lot to love about it, but the best thing IMO is the characterisation.
Let’s start with Will. I adored him. He’s a nice guy who, though he looks alpha because of his swimmer’s physique, is actually quite beta-ish. He’s partially deaf because of an accident when he was younger, so people tend to think he’s a bit thick. He doesn’t go out of his way to disabuse them, and he’s so good-natured and laidback, he’s the kind of guy you’d love to go to the pub with. His long-standing crush on Baz is awkward and hard to break, but once he falls for Marcus he comes to terms with the difference between love and a crush.
I felt sorry for Marcus, who’s very much an outsider both physically and emotionally. He’s literally set himself apart from the world and his defences are really high. At times I think he’s more of a cipher than a character, but that fits the themes of the book and you can see him developing into his true self as his barriers come down with Will. I liked the fact that both main characters had physical flaws that marked them as ‘different’, and how Will’s acceptance of his injuries helped Marcus to start healing his own emotional pain.
Baz also deserves a mention. He’s an arrogant wanker who shamelessly takes advantage of Will and everyone else around him, but at the same time I actually liked him! I’m sure we all know guys who are just like this character At times I wanted to reach into the story and throttle him, but despite everything you can see how strong and enduring the friendship is between him and Will.
The whole story really captures the flavour of the Isle of Wight—the slow pace of life, the sense that things are just a little bit different. There’s a host of lovely descriptions that tell you that the author knows this place inside out, giving a solid scene-setting that doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the story. I loved the way Merrow uses these descriptive scenes to say something about the characters as well:
There was a short row of the chalets you could see right into; their whole front walls had fallen into the sea as the cliff edge had crumbled. Here and there, little patches of flowers struggled bravely on in what had once been tiny gardens, unsuspecting of the salty grave that awaited them. Far below, the waves lapped against the shore with deceptive gentleness. Will had shivered, feeling the same vague sense of impermanence he always got when looking at war memorials.
Merrow’s trademark humour sparkles throughout the book. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny, while other bits are completely deadpan. The dialogue bounces with wit, and even the minor characters are drawn with a light touch—I particularly liked Mrs Armitage.
This is one of those books where it’s obvious from the start whodunit, and part of what kept me glued to the page was to find out why. If I have any criticism of the story, it’s with this aspect. The ending is really exciting, but I still don’t know why, exactly, Leif murdered Marcus’ parents. Obviously the main reason was for the money, but there seemed to be some detail missing around this. The motivation seemed a bit lacking for all the effort [end spoiler] and given how much I enjoyed the rest of the book, I felt a teeny bit let down with that part. Just a teeny bit, mind!
Overall this is a great book—it’s got masses of humour and it’s genuinely funny, the characterisation is impeccable, the ghost stories and the descriptions of the Island are strong and vivid, and there’s a real sense of menace in the final action-packed scenes. The romance is more sweet than sexy, but that’s very much to the book’s advantage. I only put it down to go to sleep (and only then because I had to get up early ) I wholeheartedly recommend Wight Mischief, which is released from Samhain on November 8.