Review: Sunset Lake by John Inman, Narrated by Randal Schaffer

Reverend Brian Lucas has a secret his congregation in the Nine Mile Methodist Church knows nothing about, and he’d really like to keep it that way. But even his earth-shattering secret takes a backseat to what else is happening in his tiny hometown.

Murders usually do that.

Brian's “close friend,” Sam, is urging a resolution to their little problem, but Brian's brother, Boyd, the County Sheriff, is more caught up in chasing down a homicidal maniac who is slaughtering little old ladies.

When Brian's secret and Boyd's mystery run into each other head on, and Boyd's fifteen-year-old son, Jesse, gets involved, all hell breaks loose. Then a fourth death comes to terrify the town, and it is Brian who begins to see what is taking place in their little corner of the Corn Belt. But even for a Methodist minister, it will take more than prayer to set it right.

Listening Length: 11 hours and 51 minutes

Quietly horrifying.

I really can’t come up with a better way to describe John Inman’s Sunset Lake. The setting is a quiet small town full of quiet small town folks. Not much new happens and the biggest drama they have is the ongoing debate about, who makes the best peach cobbler for the church’s basket dinner. Reverend Brian is the epitome of a backwoods minister. He’s got an old soul full of kindness and empathy, but his age shows a little in his naiveté and his humor. He’s in his late twenties and I forgot how young he was now and again. The narrator’s voice on first listen sounded too old for Brian, but Brian’s personality had that timeless quality that seems to happen in small towns. To the old guard of the town, he’ll always be that kid who tore around with his best friend Sam, stuck in that limbo that happens between generations. So, the narration, that at first seemed a little too mature for Brian, ended up working for me really well. Shaffer’s voice has that perfect mix of humility and wisdom that fit the setting seamlessly.

Brian and Sam have a secret, they have been one another’s first and only loves since they were teenagers. And while they don’t really have a ton of page/chapter time together, this is a horror story after all, they have SUCH a connection. I could see it in every one of their interactions. I absolutely loved Brian and Sam together. Sam’s sweet and quiet patience with Brian was saint worthy. Imagine being a pastor in a small minded little town with a secret like that. Brian has an incredible amount of loyalty to his flock and Sam understood how hard it would be for Brian to leave and make a life elsewhere. He also knew that ultimatums would be unfair, so he waited. Reading the two of them together was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

Terror comes to town when one of their own is found horrifically murdered in, what should have been, a safe place, her own kitchen. Grace Nugget was not the first victim and the subsequent ones met their own ends just as violently. There didn’t seem to be a connection between the victims and from the scenes that were left behind it was obvious that the murderer was psychopathic. Reverend Brian gets involved by way of being the voice of calm assurance for the town of Nine Mile, but also because his brother Boyd is the town sheriff. Brian and Boyd could not have been more different and I liked listening to the dynamics of their relationship. While they were very different they were both good men through and through, with strong moral compasses and an innate sense of right and wrong. One’s compass is driven by God and the other by the law. I couldn’t help but thing about that a lot at the end of the story with decisions that were made and actions that were taken.

Boyd’s son Jesse is spending the summer outside of Nine Mile at Sunset Lake with his best friend Kyle, Brian, Sam and Mrs. Shanahan (Sam’s aunt). Brian’s been working on a summer camp for the kids of Nine Mile for a long time now and it’s finally time for the inaugural season. There’re a lot of last minute preparations going on and Boyd is pretty thankful that Jesse and Kyle are safe away from the town and the terror that rears its ugly head repeatedly. Mrs. Shanahan is a judgmental, opinionated, tough cookie and she and Brian have a real love/hate relationship. She ended up being one of my favorite characters with her tidbits of opinion and unwavering love for Sam. She’s the only person who knows their secret and her support was inspiring to hear.

I’ve talked a lot about the relationships and not much about murder.

That’s what was so incredibly great about Sunset Lake. It’s an overall quiet character study of small town life and what it’s like to live among those quirky characters while keeping a huge portion of yourself secret. I’d get lulled into the lives of these people and get caught up in the banter, the scandals and the history and then all of a sudden – WHAM, someone else has met their untimely death and it’s a slander to everything that Nine Mile is. If that seemingly random horror can happen in Nine Mile, then is anywhere safe? There are no real clues that Boyd can find and his frustration is mounting. There’s an air of paranoia over the town and suspicions are growing regarding just about everyone. None of them have a logical motive though and every conversation is a little questionable. The accusations are not overt, and that’s what makes them even more discomforting. It made even the lighthearted and loving moments moody and darker than they should have been. The pall that the author created and the narrator conveyed over the entire story were perfect.

The ending. The ending is fucked up. It’s fucked up and the absolute best for a true horror fan at the same time. I wanted to give John Inman and hug and then pull back and yell, “how could you?!?!?!?!” Even when I got to the point where I knew what was coming, I didn’t want to believe it could be. Some miracle is going to happen and it’s all going to be a mistake, it has to be.

It wasn’t.

I had questions. Not about the story, nothing was missing there, but I wanted to know what happened right before the ‘resolution’. Resolution is a patronizing word for the ending, but I don’t want to give ANYTHING away. Not knowing what happened is how it should be though, it’s what makes a horror story so delicious. So many things could have gone down, the ending would’ve been the same, but what happened right before? Is my imagination worse than what the author may have had in mind? If it were spelled out? I highly doubt it, but like I said, the mystery makes it better. I want to bribe the author with ridiculous amounts of caffeine, sugar and alcohol and pick his brain about that moment until he’s had enough of my nonsense and flees. This is the moment where I couldn’t help but cogitate about where Boyd, the man of the law and Brian, the man of God, were coming from and how they reconciled the result with their beliefs.

It’s a lot to resolve and one of the many reasons this story will stick with me. So many wonderful and awful things happened in Sunset Lake and I’ll not forget them anytime soon. The characters are with me to stay. I was really happy with the ending for Brian and Sam, but like everything else in Nine Mile, they will be forever changed by Brian’s knowledge of that night. He’s traded one secret for another but at least he’ll have a chance at forever happiness with Sam. I highly recommend the book and the audio version complemented the characters and the story. It’s not an easy read/listen, but it’s worth every heartbreaking moment.

For more info on Sunset Lake head over to Dreamspinner Press and Goodreads.

**a copy of this audiobook was provided by Dreamspinner Press for an honest review**

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