Rating: 5 stars
When Dr. Wyatt Case admits to his best friend and co worker Noah Drake that he had been hiding under his desk rather than face the acting head of Board of Trustees of his museum about the low attendance, Noah suggests a lunch break to a new bar near their work. Noah had met the bartender over their mutual love of old motorcycles and thought both the bar and the bartender were just his boss’s type. The Gravedigger’s Brawl was situated in an old Victorian house in an area called The Fan and the minute Dr. Case enters the bar he feels an affinity for both the bar and intriguing bartender with the kohl ringed eyes called Ash Lucroix. Ash with his Gaslight dress, finds the history professor with his leather patches and loafers adorable and just as intriguing in his absent minded professor sort of way. The two men share a love of history, and their attraction to each other grows every time they see one another.
But there are strange noises are starting to be heard from all corners of the bar, sounds coming from empty floors and things are happening at The Gravedigger’s Brawl that cannot be explained by old appliances and faulty wiring, Then Ash falls and hits his head and no one believes his explanation about a strange man standing directly behind him. Their friends think it is just all the spooky Halloween decorations and stories they have been telling but Wyatt is not so sure. His research leads to some disturbing things that happened in the house that is now the bar. Can the evil Wyatt has read about be coming back to life? The answer to that question might mean life or death to all involved at The Gravedigger’s Brawl.
Wow, what a wild, spooky ride Abigail Roux turned out and just in time for Halloween. Abigail Roux delivers a loving tale of romance wrapped in the gossamer threads of a spider’s web of murder most historical, evil deeds and ghosts determined to live once more. Abigail Roux knows how to build a suspenseful atmosphere in her stories. And here she starts weaving the threads of ghostly happenings and otherworldly beings right from the start and the first bang heard from above. The author takes the usual mindset of the average person’s take on ghosts and hauntings then gives that outlook to most of her characters. From that standpoint the author starts to play, and ups the anxiety level for each person as more and more unexplained things start to go wrong at the bar. You know the drill, the uneasy laugh you might cough up as the floor squeaks above you and you try to remember where your friend was and when was the last time you saw them. She plays on our logical disbelief on all things supernatural and then makes them a reality for all involved. Are we scared close to the end for our favorite characters? You betcha we are!
I just love the main characters here, a gang of six, actually four with two on the edges who vibrate with life lived very distinctly on their own terms. Starting with Dr. Wyatt Case, a true absent-minded professor whose love affair with history and his museum has seen every other part of his life slide slowly into the dust. He even has the suede jacket patches and loafers to prove it, good thing he is also cute and adorably naive when it comes to personal relationships. Another thing in his favor, he has his best friend looking out for him. That would be professor Noah Drake, lithe, handsome, intelligent and as socially active as his boss is static. A meeting with a fellow motorcycle enthusiast who just happens to be a bartender at a bar owned by a man Noah has been dying to get to know better gives Noah the idea of a way to bring both couples together. The bartender would be Ash Lucroix, quirky, preferring his Gaslight inspired suspenders and matching tongue studs (hot, hot, hot) when performing his flair on top of the bar with Ryan, the other bartender. Ash’s ex boyfriends have not always measured up to his expectations and when his attraction to Wyatt turns into a relationship stumbling block for both of them, it is his nature that helps retrieve the situation, along with some very realistic groveling from Wyatt. And throughout all the missteps, the arguments and very hot sex, I always felt that these two were real. Their goofy, fumbling, drunken walk home had me in stitches because who hasn’t been there and done that, at least once. And Abigail Roux captured that beautifully in every hysterical detail. Even when they were on the outs and their relationship shaky, it never felt less than authentic. There is also Caleb, the English, grumpy Goth that owns the bar and eventually Noah’s heart, Delilah in her leather corsets and hooker boots, and Ryan, into leather, whips and Delilah. One after another, great characters march across the page, spouting quick, snappy dialog and living life very much on their terms. I loved them all and have a very new appreciation for tongue piercings.
And finally, there is historical Richmond where Abigail Roux lived for several years and the ghosts that haunt that region and beyond. With Roux, the setting is always as almost as important as the characters themselves. The author’s intimate knowledge of the city and its settings adds so much flavor and ambience to the story that it acts almost like another character within the story. Ash’s apartment lives for us because Abigail Roux lived in such a one herself for two years. And I have to admit I was desolate to find out that The Gravedigger’s Brawl was just a glorious figment of her imagination, so vividly did she describe it. The ghostly tales and hauntings within the story, with few exceptions, are real as well, which is not surprising in an author as dedicated to doing her research as Abigail Roux.
I don’t know if The Gravedigger’s Brawl is a stand alone story or a start of something new. The possibility of a new start gives rise to my hope that this is not the last we have heard of this quirky, wonderfully endearing group of six people. Maybe if we get enough voices together we can see a haunting revival next Halloween. In the meantime, gather your candy corn, eyeball chewing gum and all the ghostly accouterments and settle down with this wonderful book, perfect for Halloween or any time of the year.
Cover art by Reese Dante. Reese Dante gives us a wonderfully evocative cover, perfect for the story within.