Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Jasper Stone has few needs. A writer, Jasper loves his solitude and quiet, something he gets plenty of on his ninety acre ranch, high on the side of the Juniper Mountains. Living alone in his rustic cabin, Jasper’s only companions are the animal menagerie the kind hearted author has managed to accumulate since his arrival. While all his dogs and cats keep Jasper from being alone, they don’t always keep him from being lonely. Then Jasper finds a young man with a fever hiding in his chicken coop and everything changes.
When small-time thief Timmy Harwell carjacks a Cadillac, he tumbles into something much more dangerous than just stealing a car. That outrageously outfitted Cadillac belongs to Miguel Garcia, aka El Poco, a Tijuana drug dealer, known for his ruthless manner and killer reputation. And it’s not just the drug dealer’s favorite car that Timmy has stolen, no, its the $100,000 he finds in the trunk as well. Soon, Timmy is on the run, trying to put as much distance between him and El Poco as possible.
But a storm forces Timmy to hide out on Jasper’s ranch until he falls ill from exposure. Jasper finds Timmy and nurses him back to health, becoming fond of the young man during his recovery. But Timmy recognizes that Jasper is everything he is not. Jasper is kind, and honest, valuing trust and the truth above all. So Timmy hides who he is and what he has done behind lie after lie. When the past and El Poco catches up to Timmy on Jasper’s mountain, Timmy realizes its not just himself he has placed in danger but Jasper too, a man he has come to love and admire. When it all comes down to making a choice, will Timmy choose survival? Or will he decide honesty and Jasper is the only choice his heart desires?
I first found John Inman through a series of novels with a comedic bent to their plots and characters. And although each contained a serious element or two in the narrative, they were generally light hearted fare that left you smiling or perhaps even guffawing long after you had finished reading them. So I found myself surprised by the gravity of Jasper’s Mountain, a novel with a few endearing scenes to lighten a storyline of unusual seriousness by this author of humorous tales.
The characters that John Inman creates have always been people that felt authentic. Their personalities, character traits and relationship issues seeming more those of your neighbors than of created personas. That holds true here for Jasper Stone and Timmy Hartwell. Jasper, especially, resonated with me. Jasper is 32 years old, and more fond of animals than he is of people. Animals have never let him down the way people have. And Jasper’s mistrust of people combined with his awkwardness and dislike of society have caused him to retreat to his mountain sanctuary and the company of animals. Further isolating this man is his chosen profession of writing, something he is only moderately successful at. Jasper sells enough manuscripts to sustain himself and his pets but not for anything more. Everything about Jasper feels real, if not relatable.
Timmy Hartwell also comes across as a believable young thief. Stealing is a way of life Timmy just fell into, driven by a desire never to be poor again after a childhood spent in foster care. A lack of discipline, no impulse control and a flexible morality made life as a thief an easy occupation. If Timmy saw it and wanted it, well, then he stole it. And thought about the consequences later. Even Timmy admitted to himself that he probably wasn’t very smart about his life choices, just went with the flow of events and easy choices. Only the choice of hiding spots causes a change in outlook, not a desire to go straight. Another beautifully layered portrait from John Inman of a young confused human being with a life of bad choices behind him and more of the same in his future.
As with all Inman novels, the animal characters that pop up haphazardly about the story are as vivid and realistic as the people around them. Whether it is Harry and Harriet, pigs destined never to be bacon, Guatemala and Fiji, the cats with appetites for alligator lizards and the comforts of home, or Bobber, Jumper, and Lola, the dogs of indeterminate breeding that Jasper adopts, all the animals have larger than life personalities that support and enhance the people they are attached to. In this instance, the menagerie that Jasper has accumulated makes Jasper’s decision to help and then house another, albeit human, stray feel authentic to the character and situation. Jasper collects animals in need, what’s one more? The problem arises in that Timmy is a liar and a thief, someone Jasper cannot count on, unlike the unwavering love and loyalty of his animal family. It’s a great plot idea, but does it make a great romance?
As I stated before, Jasper’s Mountain is a departure from the typical lighthearted story I expect from this author. And that more serious aspect runs through the entire narrative. The biggest issue between the characters also becomes the biggest issue, in my opinion, between the readers relating to and believing in a romance between Jasper and Timmy. Timmy consistently lies to Jasper throughout the story. Over his background, over the events that lead him to Jasper’s ranch, over the peril he places Jasper in, and well, everything about the situation Timmy has created. Timmy is not just in the well, he’s in the Carlsbad Cavern of bad places, so deep and perilous is the position he has created for himself and Jasper. And the more he lies he tells Jasper, the more distance Timmy puts between himself and the reader’s emotional involvement in his future. I am not sure that Inman recognized the extent that the dishonesty of Timmy’s character would decrease the attachment one would feel towards Timmy. It also keeps the reader from investing in their romance. Even towards the end, Timmy is not honest about the head games he has been playing. We understand his desperation, the acts he commits in order to survive. John Inman has made Timmy a thoroughly believable little thief. I’m just not sure how much a reader will like him. That may depend on how much empathy you are able to extend towards Timmy and his situation.
The authenticity of Inman’s scenario extends to the story’s resolution as well. It’s not a HEA or even a HFN. More like a gritty probability that hope and the right decision will make a future possible. I liked that the author remained committed to a more likely ending than creating one that discounted all the events and characters that went before. For me, it was the only way this story could end and stay plausible. Love and hope sometimes has to be enough. John Inman understands that as well.
If you are looking for a lighthearted romance, then this is probably not the story for you. But Jasper’s Mountain has so much to offer. Its well written, believable, and full of layered characters that will hold your attention from start to finish. And no matter how I felt about Jasper and Timmy as a couple, I never stopped reading, not once. Pick it up and decide for yourself.
Cover artist Reese Dante gave Jasper’s Mountain a beautiful, memorable cover. One of the best of the year.