Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M romance with some paranormal elements from Gregory L. Norris. HALF-LIFE is a fast paced novella that pits cousin against cousin, and true love against dark magic for the fate of some rather nice fellas.
About the book:
Whitney Abbott travels to the seaside Maine town of Window to begin a new life in his uncle’s home. Robert Abbott is well-to-do and owns several high-end restaurants. Whitney will start at the bottom and work his way up at the flagship. But from the moment Whitney exits his car in the drive of the big, brooding house, he senses the sinister atmosphere surrounding his relations.
His cousin November, princess of the estate, feigns joy at having Whitney in town. And November’s handsome athlete boyfriend, Griffin, is an enigma. Soon after his arrival, Griffin warns Whitney to leave. With nowhere to go—and certain that his attraction to Griffin goes both ways—Whitney is drawn into November’s malevolent plans. Plans that will pit Whitney against dark supernatural forces in order to save both his and Griffin’s lives.
How about a little taste?
I hit the switch. The familiar cold, white glare from the overhead lights rained across the kitchen, prep station, and the industrial dishwasher, scenes of so many long shifts and leg cramps. The light did little to remove the greater darkness that hung over the back of my uncle’s restaurant. The gloom swirling outside had followed me into Abbott’s Table, one of your finer dining establishments along this part of Maine’s Rocky Headlands. Rain pelted the oblong window above the prep-station sink, where I’d cleaned and breaded untold thousands of shrimp. The ghostly aroma of garlic, lobster, and grilled meat hung over the place. Cloying, with an edge of lemon cleaner.
“Hello?” I called.
My heart hammered against my ribcage. I imagined my balls shriveling up against the root of my dick. An icy finger stroked my spine.
“Anyone here? It’s me, Whitney.”
Identifying myself made the creeping sensation even worse. The darkness had pursued me, constantly there at the periphery hiding in shadowy corners. Here in my uncle’s flagship restaurant after hours, the unwanted attention from sinister powers was more tangible, more intimate. I choked down a heavy swallow to find my mouth had gone completely dry.
“Griffin, it’s me. I saw your truck in the lot,” I said, aware of how my lips risked a smile at the mention of his name. Griffin. My heart raced for different reasons after that. “Griff?”
I checked the kitchen—empty. Willing my legs forward, I pushed past the rightward pair of swivel doors, hearing the awful voice of the restaurant’s manager, Marc with a c—Always keep to the right, that’s how it’s done at Abbott’s Table. The dining room sat dark and empty, chairs stacked upside down over tabletops, the floors swept, mopped, and shiny under the green glow of the exit lights.
I checked the bar and both of the public heads, finding the same result: no Griffin. My pulse continued its mad speed. Danger juice soured in my bloodstream. His truck in the far corner of the Abbott’s Table parking lot could have meant a hundred different things on any other night—Griffin out having fun with some of his hockey league buddies, late fun, guy stuff. I knew he wasn’t with the Ice Queen. No, after what had happened and the kiss that followed, Griffin wouldn’t have gone back to confront my cousin, November Abbott.
For a wonderful instant, the storm cloud dissolved, and I was in my car again, his big hand cupping my cheek, his mouth crushed over mine, claiming me as his and offering me all he had to give in return. I remembered the warm scent of pinesap, of Griffin’s magnificent body, the swell of his erection pressing against me as we kissed, and the certainty that what we both felt, while undeniably physical, went past simple attraction. Dare I again think it? Love.
I loved Griffin, and he loved me.
The rain pounding the world outside the restaurant’s windows unleashed eerie silver dapples across the dining room. I stood pondering, waiting for a sound, a sign. When none came, I turned and hastened back in the direction of the kitchen exit.
I dug in my sneaker treads on the rubber mat set between the kitchen and rear door, at first thinking I’d hallucinated Griffin’s voice. But then I faced the direction of the sound and found myself staring at the one corner of the restaurant I hadn’t thought to search: the walk-in refrigerator and freezer.
Reaching the big stainless-steel door seemed to take longer than the actual few seconds. I tugged on the latch. The door resisted, as though someone was pulling at the same time from the other side. The inner voice that had told me a week earlier to turn around, to not travel north to the town of Window, Maine, was back, urging me to get out. Just leave. Run!
I drew in a breath, smelling the rain, the kitchen’s funk, and the trace of clean, athletic sweat from the T-shirt I wore—Griffin’s sweat, and Griffin’s shirt, borrowed on an afternoon that now felt part of another decade. I pulled harder. The door released. A gust of cold, foggy air billowed out.
The front part of the walk-in was already lit up from inside, even though the light switch was off. I pushed through the long plastic strips of the freezer curtain and into the wide space that housed expensive cuts of tomahawk steaks, bins of heirloom tomatoes and other fresh produce from the local farmer’s market, and, I discovered, one sacrificial altar.
I froze, my eyes recording details—the waxy candles, three, burning around the body on the folding table, the sprigs of Datura stramonium Devil’s Snare flowers draped around the nude man’s corpse laid out in a funeral pose. I recognized the patch of hairy, athletic lower leg, upon which a winged lion had been inked.
“Griffin,” I gasped.
A breeze that hadn’t been there the previous second whispered through the walk-in, stirring the leaves of bunches of basil, parsley, and other fresh herbs. My paralysis broke. I moved beside the table, my eyes wide, not blinking. Griffin, naked, his hands folded over his midriff. Even as I reached my trembling fingers toward his and the voice in my head screamed for me to run—run from the restaurant, from Window, Maine, and, above all else, from Griffin—my eyes recorded the pallor of his skin. Griffin’s flesh was gray in the flickering candlelight.
My hand covered his. A chill raced up my fingertips. He was icy to the touch. No, impossible—hours before, in that other era, he’d held me, kissed me. And I had seen proof of our tomorrow together even as the storm clouds raced over our heads. Griffin had pledged his love and promised to return.
I glanced at Griffin’s big jock feet—still sexy despite their grayness, up his legs, past his junk, and all the way to his eyes, clamped shut. I gripped his hands, the fingers interlaced in prayer, and squeezed.
The dead man’s eyes shot open. Gone was their beyond-blue color—what I’d come to think of as twin sapphire gemstones. What focused upon me now was a pair of predator’s eyes with a wolf’s silver sharpness. The hands beneath my fingers abandoned their illusion of prayer and seized hold of my arm. I shrieked, attempting to pull away. Right before the corpse’s legs swung out and the altar collapsed, toppling candles, I saw Griffin’s mouth open. He licked his lips. His teeth chattered. The dead man salivated hungrily.
And then his weight spilled on top of me, and he was snapping at my throat.
Eighteen year old aspiring poet Whitney Abbott knows he isn’t welcome to his Uncle Robert’s estate in Window, Maine. Having no job or skills, he’s accepted the offer to come and work in one of his uncle’s upscale restaurants. Now that his parents have lost their home, Whitney also a place to live. Uncle Robert is a wealthy man, with a single daughter, November, who has always hated Whitney. She made any of his previous visits unbearable, and he’s suspicious of her saccharine demeanor when he arrives.
Whitney immediately meets Griffin, a near-twentyish young man who is affable, and inexplicably dating November–even though his gaze burns hot over Whitney. In a few moments of unguarded candor, Griffin warns Whitney there’s danger here, and to run while he can. Whitney isn’t taken by November’s ploys, and he questions November’s intentional use of Devil’s Snare in and around the home. Is she weaving it into necklaces for her father and Griffin to wear? And, why do they seem occasionally dead-eyed and extra-responsive to any of her demands? He’s just ingenious enough to wonder if there’s some sort of witchcraft going down, which preps him for the big showdown.
I liked the lyrical quality of this one, though I think the beginning was a bit too explicit in terms of plot. I would have rather a more gradual coming to understanding of all the quirks of this locale and Whitney’s relations. I was charmed by how sweet Whitney is, and how his immediate connection with Griffin grows into a life-saving love. As it’s a novella, there’s not a lot of time to develop a giant story arc, but this one was interesting and I had to shake my head in amusement regarding the manner in which Whitney revives Griffin from November’s power. Seriously, that was some amazeballs oral. In the end true, love reigns and November’s shenanighans seem to be halted. Expect the fair Whitney to save the day, and his new lover.
About the Author:
Raised on a healthy diet of creature double features and classic SF television, Gregory L. Norris is a full-time professional writer, with work appearing in numerous short story anthologies, national magazines, novels, the occasional TV episode, and, so far, one produced feature film (Brutal Colors, which debuted on Amazon Prime January 2016). A former feature writer and columnist at Sci Fi, the official magazine of the Sci Fi Channel (before all those ridiculous Ys invaded), he once worked as a screenwriter on two episodes of Paramount’s modern classic, Star Trek: Voyager. Two of his paranormal novels (written under my rom-de-plume, Jo Atkinson) were published by Home Shopping Network as part of their “Escape With Romance” line — the first time HSN has offered novels to their global customer base. He judged the 2012 Lambda Awards in the SF/F/H category. Three times now, his stories have notched Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best-of books. In May 2016, he traveled to Hollywood to accept HM in the Roswell Awards in Short SF Writing.His story “Drowning” appears in the Italian anthology THE BEAUTY OF DEATH 2, alongside tales by none other than Peter Straub and Clive Barker.