Sunday, May 25, 2014

Minis: Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon & Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

Here are a couple of minis by two favorite authors. Although one story worked better for me than the other and the authors have completely different styles of writing, both books are notable for their excellent atmosphere and brilliant setting.

Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon: C

I absolutely love how Lanyon can take a contemporary story and weave in such fine retro atmosphere that he takes the reader to another time and place. This time he took me back to Gatsby's Gold Coast and into the dysfunctional lives of an uber wealthy family at their Long Island mansion, and a central mystery plot focusing on a kidnapping ala Lindbergh-baby that includes desperate family members and impostors.

The narrator is Griff, a journalist from Wisconsin who has been given the green light by the head of the family to write a book about the kidnapping of his grandson Brian Arlington, heir to the Arlington fortune, with the hopes that this new investigation will bring to light new details that may have been missed all those years ago. Pierce Mather, the family lawyer and family friend, is cold and suspicious of Griff's motives even before he shows up at the mansion. But then someone tries to hurt Griff, and things begin to change as they slowly give in to a mutual attraction.

Stranger on the Shore has excellent atmosphere, setting, and mystery kept me reading. Unfortunately, the most important revelation is foreshadowed early on, so that when the final climax final happens it falls flat. The wealthy, dysfunctional family is too black and white with few of those nuances that I usually expect from Lanyon. There's the good, dead son and his near-perfect wife, and then the rest of the unlikable, parasitic family living under one roof dependent on the ruthless head of the family -- an old man who has become somewhat vulnerable because his health is failing. The timeline for this story is one week, so the romance works only if you are a believer in fate and chemistry and don't mind what felt more like a "happy for now" than a "happy ever after" ending.

Oheka Castle, Historic Gold Coast Mansion, Long Island

Scrap Metal by Harper Fox: B

My first thoughts when reading Scrap Metal : Harper's descriptions of nature in the Isle of Arran are fantastic. I could almost see myself there -- I was certainly able to visualize the place. The story takes place in a generations-owned bucolic sheep farm where reticent grandfather and resentful grandson are fighting to keep the farm going a year after the young man's mother and the brother who  managed the farm were killed in a traffic accident.

Nichol, the grandson, dreams of going back to the University of Edinburgh where he studied languages and the gay lifestyle he lead there, instead of taking care of sheep in a rundown farm and hiding who he is for his grandfather's sake -- a grandfather who has never really liked Nichol. The grandfather is immutable. Everything changes from dark to light after Cam, a beautiful young man running away from danger and full of secrets, breaks into the barn to find shelter and stays to help around the farm for room and board.

The story is haunting and rife with grief and atmosphere. I believe that the setting, Gaelic poetry, and descriptive language have a lot to do with this. I loved the staunch grandfather and the two younger characters who slowly fall in love -- the holding back, the stolen moments and illicit passion, the tenderness and care. There are secrets and layers to the characters that Fox reveals slowly. None of the characters are as they first appear. The action toward the end of the novel is unnecessarily convoluted and a bit jarring compared to the rest of the story. However, all in all this is a solid read by Fox, and one I will probably reread at some point.

Farm, Isle of Arran, Scottish Isles


  1. Ohhh. I was kind of eyeing the Josh Lanyon. Now, I'm in a bit less of a hurry...

  2. Nath, this piece by Lanyon didn't work as well for me as Winter (The Haunted Heart #1) the first in his seasonal series. I'm waiting for Spring, #2 to release! But, you know, a Lanyon piece is always worth reading. I try to read them all. :)


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