Summary: The town of Gilford has a Big and Terrible secret hidden in the ground. Infecting those it touches. Exploiting their darkness. Consuming their souls. It’s hungry. It’s vile. It’s evil. And it wants out. Book One: The First Three Rules. Marshal Jon Foster lost his purpose and his sanity the day he saw the image of his dead brother. The distraction saved Jon’s life but cost the lives of innocent people including his best friend and partner. It was a price for survival Jon couldn’t live with and was sure he’d never understand.
Driven by grief and guilt he tried to escape his past by fleeing to a small town in the middle of nowhere. Only instead of peace, the memories festered. Then the offer of a stick of gum from a stranger changes Jon’s life and puts him on a road out of the nightmare he’s trapped in.
Ellis Harper has lived the past twenty years isolated from the outside world and sole caretaker for his mentally disabled brother, Rudy. While Ellis loves his brother, he longs for a life he’ll never be able to have. Shut away, his days consist of chores, endless cartoons, and games of Go Fish. A world that seemed to have no end until an innocent misunderstanding turns Ellis and his brother into a target for a town bully. It’s a fight Ellis can never win on his own but thanks to a chance meeting with a stranger, he doesn’t have to. What begins as a new journey in love for both men quickly unfolds into something neither of them could have ever imagined.
Review: Former U.S. Marshal Jon Foster has just moved to the tiny Georgia town of Gilford, a place he picked at random after a disastrous event made him quit his job. Poor Jon hasn’t known much happiness since childhood when his beloved older brother committed suicide due to cruel treatment from their father. But on the day Jon decides to shoot himself, he ends up making friends with Rudy, a mentally disabled man, and meeting Ellis, Rudy’s younger brother and caretaker. Poor Ellis has woes that are the equal of Jon’s: he gave up his life at age twelve to care for Rudy when their parents died and has never really gone to school, had friends, or been able to participate in the outside world.
To Rudy’s delight, Jon and Ellis start a romantic relationship. But then a mishap on Rudy’s part brings them to the attention of the vengeful town bully who happens to be completely insane. He begins to harass Jon, Ellis, and Rudy as often as possible while threatening them with torture, rape, and death. Unfortunately, the town’s corrupt police force contains friends of the villain, and everyone else is too afraid to stand up to him anyway. Jon, being a tough former Marshal, gets in a few verbal and physical counterattacks, but mostly the deck seems stacked against our heroes.
Because I’d forgotten the book blurb and thought I was reading a contemporary romance, I initially found the villain to be unrealistically omnipotent. I had to re-read the book blurb for context. Without the blurb, this book feels almost one hundred percent like mainstream realism. The only hints of the supernatural are Jon’s vision of his dead brother, and Rudy’s minor psychic abilities which enabled him to draw a childlike picture of Jon a few weeks before Jon entered their lives.
Probably this book (Book 1 in the “My Brother’s Keeper” series) should have included more supernatural scenes to make the “Big and Terrible secret hidden in the ground” thing more obvious so that we readers would realize what is affecting the villain. Otherwise, he just seems weirdly over-the-top and frustratingly all-powerful.
On the other hand, the best parts of this book center on the realism of Jon’s initial courtship with Ellis, and especially both men’s relationship with Rudy. Told in third-person viewpoint, the book alternates between Jon and Ellis, with glimpses from Rudy’s perspective. Rudy is a delight. He is realistic, complex, and three-dimensional. His dialog rings true and his childlike logic is fascinating as he asserts his place in the world. He is not sentimentalized. The reader can see how he’s a total handful for poor Ellis, and yet he is endearing and even heroic. Jon is also a strong character and he provides some much-needed traces of humor and sexiness to offset all the suffering and worry. Ellis, while understandably anxious, comes across as the least likable of the three.
The book builds to a strong, thriller-type conclusion. Readers who may enjoy this book the most will probably be fans of angst and hurt-comfort themes. There are also many readers who like virginal characters (represented here by Ellis) and scenes of male couples acting as parental figures, and those readers may especially connect with this book as well.