Wolf at the Door, K Drew.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Gay Gothic Romance
Tags: Paranormal, Noir, Contemporary Setting, Horror
Length: 171 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
To say the property was welcoming would be to compare a viper’s grip to a mother’s hug. The house possessed a furious quality, a silent anger that was impossible to ignore. If a home could speak, this one told me to get into my car and drive away, but in spite of this I stayed.
I love paranormal. It’s my biggest reading shelf. I’m also a huge fan of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, just the tip of the iceberg really. I do love that brooding, atmospheric, gothic romance style. So when I read the official blurb for Wolf at the Door I thought – stately house + mysterious inhabitants + brooding character + disappearing men + paranormal = Kazza.
When Wolf at the Door starts Nicholas Ashbee is in an interrogation room at a New York police station. He is a suspect in the death of Lilith Blackwood…and he has seen better days. The detectives are spouting cliché lines at him to get him to confess to the brutal murder of his charge. From the interrogation room the reader very cleverly gets transported back, you get to know Nicholas Ashbee and those he crosses the path of. And you get to see the last month spent at the Blackwood house. It is never written in jarring flashbacks it is always a trigger or some other smooth transition from present to past. The story builds from the focal point at the beginning to the end which is just past the beginning.
Nicholas grows up in the uninspiring town of Constance, Illinois. He lives in a trailer park that is full of dysfunction. This starts with his mother, Cheryl, who has alcohol and other substance abuse issues. He nurses his grandmother who has diabetes and stomach cancer until she dies, and he is gay in a town where “his tribe” is not many. Life is not a great joy to Nicholas and those around him. He has some gay encounters in a tunnel in the local park and he has trouble sleeping as spouses abuse the local hooker at the trailer next door or someone works on their bike, loudly, at early hours of the morning. They exist, and Nicholas wants to do enough to get out of his much despised poverty –
Nothing much was spared from ruin at Singer Trailer Park. Things had a way of breaking down here, not only the property, but also the people. I saw my fate spelled out on the worn faces of the residents each day.
But Nicholas decides that if he works hard enough at school it can be his ticket out –
After my eighteenth birthday, I decided to focus on school and try to drag myself up out of the gutter within which I had gestated. I was driven to become more than just an extension of my parents’ ravaged lives and pitiful mistakes, and for a time I succeeded. Perhaps I was a little too successful in my attempt to erase any trace of where I came from. I may have overcompensated.
He nursed his grandmother – he looked after himself from a young age – so he has a pragmatic career path –
Nursing is what you aspire to when you grow up in a dilapidated trailer park in Constance, Illinois, where dreams of rock star fame and teenage revolt are replaced with far more practical goals.
Nicholas attains a small scholarship into a New York college, Desentia, which specialises in medicine, and specifically nursing. By the end of the year he had done well enough to be awarded the coveted Blackwood Internship. Past recipients have apparently gone on to exclusive, private hospitals and great things, so they are told. So gaining this internship appears to be the right step in Nicholas’ career. Nicolas is sick of poverty, sick of being at the bottom of the socio-economic rung –
That’s the real difference between being rich and poor. If the poor make a mistake, they pay for it for the rest of their lives, and the world never forgets…or forgives.
Pretty soon Nicholas discovers that the Blackwood Internship may not be as thrilling as it first seems.
While Lilith is nothing if not interesting, Sebastian, her incredibly sexy, and seemingly much younger husband is cold and uses Nicholas to do many things around the house – prepare breakfast, dress animals killed on the estate, clean, garden, prepare a banquet for Lilith’s upcoming birthday festivities, serve at the party, all on top of nursing duties.
Nicholas notices things that are unusual but sometimes so much so that you wouldn’t think anything more than you have imagined it. From the time he arrives at Blackwood he feels like he is being watched. Loki, Sebastian’s dog, is almost like a wolf with uncanny closeness to his master and aggression towards Nicholas until his master’s attitude changes. Lilith is incredibly old yet has moments of lucidity and activity followed by periods of being almost catatonic and seemingly at deaths door. When he visits the woods an occurrence is so surreal he questions it ever happened. Nicholas vacillates between leaving the estate and feeling compelled to stay for Lilith and for his odd and growing attraction to Sebastian. I can’t say a whole lot more without giving away major plot and the ending. So I will break down what I liked and what didn’t work so well for me.
Things that worked –
It definitely fulfilled my desire for a gothic romance with a paranormal slant.
There is a beautiful turn of phrase and lovely prose in this book. K Drew has quite the style –
Something compelled me to venture into the woods and discover more about Blackwood, a history as twisted as the branches of the dead foliage which bore its name.
My grandmother had always taught me that dreams were a means of entering an alternate world. A domain uninhibited by social formality, where the truths we don’t wish to acknowledge exist. As I would later learn, she was absolutely correct, and this series of images that my mind had conjured was no silly daydream, but a premonition of dangers to come.
Interesting characters. Nicholas Ashbee really has a darkly resigned perspective very much skewed by the desire to earn a living, break the cycle of poverty —
“You have an impressive grasp of Victorian literature,” Sebastian said reverently.
“I considered becoming an English major before going into nursing,” I stammered.
“What prompted you to give up the rewards of literature?”
I suddenly turned serious and told him, “I gave up beauty for practicality a long time ago.”
“One should never have to choose between the two.”
“You have to when you’re poor.”
I appreciated the name of the nearby town, Drekton, that was visited for a bar pick-up-fix if so desired. Clever.
I’m a people/character observer so the descriptions of the residents of the Singer Trailer Park were incredibly well drawn. Life in Constance was starkly observational and real. Nicholas’ mother could not be mistaken for mother of the year material.
Once the paranormal aspects were written in they were well done. There was a true gothic build. The latter part of the book had some good world building and action. I wanted to know what would happen.
The ending. I wasn’t sure where it was heading and I thought I may have to throw my Kindle, but no such thing was needed. My Kindle and I were both left intact! I really enjoyed the ending and I’m glad it is not cookie-cutter, but it was the most optimistic part of the book and I liked Nicholas’ thoughts. K Drew did a great job with the end in my opinion.
I enjoyed the way this book subtly compared the life of those with wealth against those without. It was a good study in human nature and perceptions. It parallels life and behaviour of people in Constance, in the lower socio-economic demographic, against those of the rich in the Blackwood’s world.
Even though there is only one sex scene in this book it has definite erotic undertones throughout, which worked well given the style of the book.
There were some rather gruesome and graphic parts to this book. Not often, but when they occur they fit with the story and style.
What didn’t work for me –
Whilst I loved the background on Nicholas’ hometown of Constance and the trailer park’s inhabitants I could have done without other minute details. I believe I read at the end that the writer draws or paints and I would say that the writing at times is done with an artists eye to detail but not so much from the author’s eye for multi-layered character development. For example, Detective Anderson, who has a bit part in the book – he is in it twice for a few moments – has everything described from the colour of his clothes, to stains on said clothes, to moustache etc. Clive, who disappears, the same thing. I was more interested in getting to know Sebastian more and I felt that time spent on him would have been a better investment from the writer.
So, having said the above, there was not enough emotional development of Sebastian. This book is purely Nicholas Ashbees’ narration, so Sebastian needed some stronger development to shine through. What there was given was good and intriguing, but I wanted more. Towards the end I was all over Sebastian. I am really hoping there is another book to follow this up.
I needed to know some more about Loki, the lake, the woods.
The narrative was, at times, too sophisticated for the MC. Nicholas could look at something and compare it to this artist or that artist, and had more than a basic or working knowledge of art history. At his age, his level of education, his lack of a parent, or family who would show him these things, take him to art galleries, travel the world, it seemed a stretch. Example, he knew to compare a guest and his mask at Lilith’s party to that of the horny devil from the commedia dell’arte, which suited his personality like a glove. Hell, Nicholas kicked my arse in art appreciation and intricacies.
Wolf at the Door is very much written in a true noir, gothic romance style. It is heavy on details, and while I may not have liked all of the detail I appreciated the intricacies and the writing. The thing is, the characterisations did suffer somewhat because of it. BUT…I liked the book so much, and as I reviewed it I appreciated it even more – if you write reviews as often as I do you will possibly appreciate that last comment. Do not go into Wolf at the Door thinking this is a werewolf novel, or that it will be driven at a rip-roaring pace, because you may be disappointed. Go into it thinking very descriptive writing, moody feel, enigmatic characters – bar the narrator, Nicholas. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am looking forward to more from a talented and incredibly promising author, K Drew. Oh yes, I keep meaning to add that that is one spectacular cover!
This book was supplied to me by the publisher, Dreamspinner Press, in return for an honest review