Review: L.A. Merrill – Meanwhile Back at the Ranch (States of Love)

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Reviewer: Natalie
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Summary:

David Marks is looking for the perfect place to film his new web series and recover from his latest failed relationship. When reclusive writer Michael Sharp opens his Montana ranch to paying guests, David knows he’s found the right place—but he doesn’t expect to find Mr. Right too.

Forty years ago Michael Sharp’s father was murdered in front of him. No one believed a six-year-old boy’s testimony against the powerful Carver brothers. For years Michael has lived in self-imposed exile, the only living witness who can bring down the Carver criminal empire. But now the money is running out, and he’s forced to play host to a troupe of temperamental web actors and their energetically attractive director in order to stay alive.

The Carvers aren’t about to stand for rebellion. Michael has outlived his usefulness. Now Michael and David have to find a way to end this fight once and for all, finding justice for Michael’s father and meeting David’s funding deadline—all before one or both of them ends up dead.

Review:

L.A. Merrill is a new-to-me author and I am impressed with the amount of story contained in this novella. It’s written in first-person from David’s POV and although that’s not a favorite of mine, it was done quite well. David, an aspiring web series producer, is filming his latest project at a remote Montana guest ranch, owned by Michael, reclusive, gruff, with a somewhat mysterious past. He authored a book years before, about a boy whose father was killed by a local mafia-style family.

There are several secondary characters and their personalities really stood out. The description of activities and action sequences allowed me to easily imagine the surroundings, the house, and the complications of streaming a web series from the remote terrain. Michael’s history was quite intriguing and the revelations well-paced, leading up to the climactic scenes. I’m not very familiar with Lorna Doone but with the plot laid out, it seemed much like life imitating fiction.

However, Michael’s character was enigmatic, his interactions with David more often told, rather than shown. I ended up puzzled, trying to determine just where the connection between them became deep enough for their final declarations. I didn’t capture enough insight for that from the narrative. I never felt a sense of strong attraction or sexual tension between them, just admiration and comfort, until the late in the narrative kiss.

It was still quite entertaining overall and the resolution was clever and exciting. It would probably appeal if you want a light, afternoon read with mild suspense, quirky characters and a touch of hurt/comfort.

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