Marc reviews ‘The Well’ by Marie Sexton. This book was released by the author on May 22nd, 2017 and is about 187 pages long. The audiobook was narrated by John Solo, released on September 4th, 2017 and is 6 hrs and 42 mins long.
We decided to run a ‘Halloween’ theme week on RGR and I was looking for a book I could read for that. At about the same time, a friend of mine was listening to ‘The Well’ and loved it, even though it spooked her. She gifted me the book via audible, because she thought I would love it as well. I knew I could only accept a single gifted book, but her recommendation and the author, Marie Sexton, who has written many amazing books that were 5 star reads for me, made me realize this would be my perfect Halloween book. A thrilling mystery, a spooky paranormal angle and a sweet, complicated gay romance.
Twenty years after prom queen Cassie Kennedy is brutally murdered, six teenagers break into the house where she was killed to hold a séance. Haven knows his cousin Elise only wants to scare the crap out of him and his friends, but he’s willing to put up with one of her pranks if it means a chance to spend a few hours with the new kid in town, Pierce Hunter.
But when morning comes, Elise has disappeared without a trace.
Twelve years later, Pierce and his twin brother Jordan are professional paranormal investigators, starring in their own ghost-hunting TV show. When Pierce calls Haven, insisting they return to the supposedly haunted building one last time, Haven reluctantly agrees. He’s nervous about seeing Pierce again, but he’s determined to get some answers. Did they really speak to Cassie’s ghost that night? What happened to Elise? And the biggest mystery of all – how did she know the secret of the well?
Marie Sexton has been a favorite author of mine for quite some time now. I love her courage to write the stories she wants to tell in the way she wants to tell them, true to her characters, regardless of whether that will be popular. She is one of the rare gay romance authors who has allowed two of her characters to have an open relationship (Zach and Angelo in the Coda Books). She has also written about difficult topics like religion (Sinners & Saints), poverty and class differences (Trailer Trash) and many topics. What makes her books special to me is her understanding, tactful and realistic treatment of controversial topics, showing different perspectives. I have learned a lot from her about my own unknown prejudices and she has inspired me to always try to listen and understand different perspectives with an open heart and mind.
With ‘The Well’ there is the possibility of a paranormal aspect to the story from the very beginning, but the reader is never quite sure if there isn’t some kind of natural explanation that might make more sense. Some of the characters believe there are ghosts, some are sceptical, but no character is pressured into changing or ridiculed for what they personally believe. The one thing that is clear is that something bad has happened. Haven, the MC, lost his cousin 12 years ago after doing a séance in a supposedly haunted house. She never reappeared. The author keeps everything very realistic, while always keeping the possibility of ghosts open. I was captivated by Haven trying to figure out the truth of what happened to Elise with the now professional paranormal investigators Pierce (the first guy he ever kissed) and Pierce’s twin brother Jordan (whom Haven held responsible for Elise’s assumed murder ever since she disappeared).
I usually don’t like extended flashbacks, because I am normally more interested in what is happening to the characters NOW than to what happened to them in the past. However, for this book, it worked very well to alternate between what happened 12 years ago when Elise vanished and what is happening currently to Haven. The way the MC looks at the world as young adult, just figuring out his sexuality – and as a well-known horror author, who has lived, loved and lost – is very interesting. Most importantly, though, it allowed me to build an emotional connection to Elise and become personally and emotionally invested in the outcome of her mystery. I really needed to know what happened to her.
Marie Sexton had me at the edge of my seat, with my pulse racing, unable to put down my earphones and stop the audiobook. Unable to take a breath, as I needed to know what would happen next. I did correctly guess who was responsible for Elise’s disappearance in the end, however I had no idea how or why and kept doubting myself. There were many possible suspects and the story kept me guessing. I considered many different suspects during the story, as it twisted and turned and new things were revealed to Haven and the reader. It was only after one of those reveals late in the story, when I suddenly had a feeling of who I thought might be responsible. When I was correct in the end, I was not disappointed that I was right, but happy about how the author connected everything. I only had a gut feeling before the climatic reveal, but once everything was revealed, I suddenly understood exactly how and why it happened and the hints the author had placed into the story.
The conclusion of the mystery, the main focus of the book, was very satisfying on an emotional level and made sense to me. It was well planned out, tied well together and never became boring or too complicated to follow. There were quite a few spooky moments, but it is not a horror story. It is much more a well-written mystery thriller a la Josh Lanyon (Fair Chance comes to mind) with a potential, paranormal aspect like in ‘A Reason to Believe’ by Diana Copland. While the romance between Haven and Pierce is not front and center, I really liked the dynamic between them. They are drawn to each other and even after 12 years, they still have strong feelings for each other, but the possibility that Pierce’s twin brother might have murdered Elise makes it all very complicated.
There is a happy ending for Haven, but to me the Epilogue felt a bit short, if not a bit rushed. It is a beautiful scene, but I would have liked to spend a little more time saying goodbye to Haven, after the central mystery had been solved in a very dramatic climax. That’s my only criticism, though, and it did not really detract from my enjoyment of the story. The characters we met were all well fleshed out and it was really easy to get emotionally invested in them. The mystery was interesting, spooky and intrigued me from the very beginning to the very satisfying conclusion. It was one of the best books I have read or listened to in a while.
The audiobook narration by John Solo was fantastic and added a lot to the story for me. The narrator made Haven come to life for me from the pages. I could almost feel his attraction and admiration for Pierce and later the sexual tension between them. I could feel the fear and confusion and pain, when he lost his cousin, who was like a sister to him and later his determination to find out what happened to her. And I could feel the panic, when everything started to come together and Haven realized the danger he was really in. He wasn’t just a book character, he was a close friend in mortal danger. Something like that can only happen when a well-written story and a great narration come together. Brilliant!
I can strongly recommend this book to mystery lovers and readers who like realistic ghost stories, as long as you don’t mind that the romance is not the main focus of the story.
9.5/10 Pots of Gold (95% Recommended) – Compares to 4.75/5 Stars
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.