Author: Kim Fielding
Genre: Contemporary/Coming Out
Length: Novel (210 pages)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (September 20th, 2013)
Heat Level: Mild
Heart Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥5Hearts
Blurb: William Lyon’s past forced him to become someone he isn’t. Conflicted and unable to maintain the charade, he separates from his wife and takes a job as caretaker at a former mental hospital. Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum was the largest mental hospital in California for well over a century, but it now stands empty. William thinks the decrepit institution is the perfect place to finish his dissertation and wait for his divorce to become final. In town, William meets Colby Anderson, who minds the local store and post office. Unlike William, Colby is cute, upbeat, and flamboyantly out. Although initially put off by Colby’s mannerisms, William comes to value their new friendship, and even accepts Colby’s offer to ease him into the world of gay sex.
William’s self-image begins to change when he discovers a tin box, hidden in an asylum wall since the 1940s. It contains letters secretly written by Bill, a patient who was sent to the asylum for being homosexual. The letters hit close to home, and William comes to care about Bill and his fate. With Colby’s help, he hopes the words written seventy years ago will give him courage to be his true self..
Review: Where to begin with this book? Well first, it’s not a titillating, exotic romance, but it is one of the best books I’ve read in months! The sexual tension is definitely there, but secondary to the main storyline. This book gives me a look into the world of psychiatric “treatment” before the science and human rights evolved to what we now recognize. The days, and sometimes this is still happening, when modern medicine thought that gay could be and should be cured. To think of the traumatic and cruel things that the Bill from the tin box letters, experienced against his will, because society’s definitions of mental illness and scientific treatment of the time allowed it. It’s terrifying! I like to skip blurbs when possible, and when I began this story, I thought immediately it would include a ghost in the big vacant mental hospital, and in a way, it did. The ghost of medical practices past haunting us today. The stories that William uncovered about how many of the mental patients including Bill, held against his own will, endured horrifying acts, are tragic and a sad loss. This sacrifice, and loss by the Bill of the past, gives William the realization that even though his life has been hard, his family turned against him, his marriage failed, and he was exposed to “cure” treatments, he still has opportunities that Bill never had. Opportunities he was wasting, hiding away by himself.
When first introduced to the character of Cody I thought, oh, boy here we go, stereotypical twink. But the author did such a good job of digging deeper and exposing this very experienced, and even world-weary man’s deeper side. It was also touching to show his vulnerability in an otherwise strong and outgoing personality.
The book is well written, the plot moves along at a quick pace, the situations are believable, and there were moments of cringe-worthiness, heart pounding lust, tears, frustration, fear, repulsion, and at last a HEA that was warm and fuzzy but so well deserved. The ending was not just for the main characters but also for the ghost of Bill, comfort for the dead. A wonderful book and a highly recommended read. I’ll be searching for Kim Fielding’s entire backlist now!