Author ~ John Inman
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 8th July 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance, Mystery/Thriller
Reverend Brian Lucas has a secret his congregation in the Nine Mile Methodist Church knows nothing about, and he’d really like to keep it that way. But even his earth-shattering secret takes a backseat to what else is happening in his tiny hometown.
Murders usually do that.
Brian's “close friend,” Sam, is urging a resolution to their little problem, but Brian's brother, Boyd, the County Sheriff, is more caught up in chasing down a homicidal maniac who is slaughtering little old ladies.
When Brian's secret and Boyd's mystery run into each other head on, and Boyd's fifteen-year-old son, Jesse, gets involved, all hell breaks loose. Then a fourth death comes to terrify the town, and it is Brian who begins to see what is taking place in their little corner of the Corn Belt. But even for a Methodist minister, it will take more than prayer to set it right.
It’s been three days since I finished reading and I’m still thinking about this story.
Nine Mile is a rural Midwestern farm town, Population 327, where daily life revolves around work, family and friends. As the story opens we are introduced to a number of the town’s residents as they attend the Methodist Church’s Basket Dinner under the direction of Rev. Brian Lucas, the town’s twenty-eight year old Methodist minister who has a penchant for thinking snarky, unchristian thoughts about his parishioners. Other than leaving for college, Brian is a lifelong resident of Nine Mile. He and his best friend, Sam have been secret lovers since they were sixteen, but Sam is more than ready for them to leave town and start over somewhere that they can be openly together without fear of being run out of town or worse. Other than Sam’s elderly aunt, Mrs. Shanahan, nobody knows about the relationship, not even Brian’s brother. Although Brian knows Sam is right, and he knows Sam is hurting, he can’t bring himself to leave his church and the town.
It is during the basket dinner that Brian gets a call from his older brother Boyd, who is also the County Sheriff, explaining that one of the elderly women in his congregation has been murdered and that there is an indication that there will be more to come. The nature of the crime is a clear indication to Boyd that they are dealing with a “maniac”, but when a note arrives indicating a second murder has or will occur, the possibility that this maniac is also a religious fanatic draws Brian into the investigation.
As Brian and Sam go to Sunset Lake to finish work on the new church camp set to open later in the summer, with Boyd’s teenage son Jesse, his best friend Kyle, Mrs. Shanahan and a few other day workers at the camp, the murders continue. While the pool of suspects is small, evidence is slim and a motive elusive, with the only apparent connection between the victims being that they are members of the congregation. As if all of this is not enough, something is going on with Jesse and Brian can’t figure out what it is.
I would definitely classify this as a mystery/suspense story with a romance plot woven in. Even though Sam and Brian are a well-established couple when the book starts, I had no problem getting immediately invested in their happiness. The anguish and pain, especially Sam’s desperation, at their situation and the cross roads they are obviously at was heartbreaking. The moments they are able to steal away together at Sunset Lake cemented their love for each other, but also served to shine a light on how the guilt Brian feels towards Sam over their secrets and hiding and the real fear that Sam might not wait much longer is wearing them down.
If you’ve only read John Inman’s lighter romances, you may be surprised at how well he does darker suspense. The victims aren’t just random bodies showing up in the story as each of them has been introduced earlier in one way or another, and their murders are hauntingly brutal, and set up like something straight out of a horror movie. It is not a procedural and any inside information on the investigation or crime scenes comes from Boyd asking Brian for help or Brian’s observations.
John Inman’s descriptive writing had me right in the middle of Nine Mile and the camp at Sunset Lake. His descriptions of the town and the people really drew me in. Every secondary character had a story and a personality. This was more than just a mystery. It was a story about family. Brian’s relationships with Sam, with his brother, with his nephew and with the outspoken Mrs. Shanahan were all unique and fully formed. There is love and respect throughout, even for Mrs. Shanahan who is both the bane of his existence and one of his greatest supporters. He has a relationship with his teenage nephew Jesse that is growing stronger by the day and Brian does all he can to make Kyle’s life easier, even hiring his seemingly good for nothing father to be a caretaker at the camp. He is devoted to Sam and although his inability to make a decision on what they will do is eating at them both, their love for each other seems unbreakable. There is also a sense of humor that pops up even at the oddest times.
The mystery was so well crafted, it kept me guessing throughout. I was making notes whenever I thought someone might be the killer, ranging from “it looks like him, but probably not”, “I hope it’s her” and “please don’t let it be him!” Just when I thought things were going to be resolved, the killer outed, I had the horrifying realization that something just wasn’t right. To say that the resolution of the mystery and the events that followed left me gutted and unsettled is an understatement. While Brian and Sam are able to come to a decision and move on with their lives and their HEA, things will never be the same.
In the end it’s about family, love, and sacrifice. What would you do to ensure the safety of those who are closest to you? What would you sacrifice?