Audiobook Review: Willow Man by John Inman

Woody Stiles has sung his country songs in every city on the map. His life is one long road trip in a never-ending quest for fame and fortune. But when his agent books him into a club in his hometown, a place he swore he would never set foot in again, Woody comes face to face with a few old demons. One in particular.

With memories of his childhood bombarding him from every angle, Woody must accept the fact that his old enemy, Willow Man, was not just a figment of childish imagination.

With his friends at his side, now all grown up just like he is, Woody goes to battle with the killer that stole his childhood lover. Woody also learns Willow Man has been busy while he was away, destroying even more of Woody's past. And in the midst of all this drama, Woody is stunned to find himself falling in love - something he never thought he would do again.

As kids, Woody and his friends could not stop the killer who lived in the canyon where they played. As adults, they might just have a chance.

Or will they?

Listening Length: 12 Hours 49 Minutes
Narrator: Austin Rising

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of John Inman and his words in all their incarnations. I can’t get enough of his love pollen in the Belladonna Arms, his charming slapstick in Shy and his ventures into the dark side in Sunset Lake. Willow Man is definitely filed in the dark column and man did I love every heartbreaking moment.

I was born and raised in San Diego where Willow Man takes place and I remember the crash that is the catalyst for Willow Man well. I was a kid at the time and my mom worked in the area. I remember the panic and the fear as we waited at home for news. This was before you googled for news so we waited. And waited. And waited. Mom came home, all was well with us personally but San Diego was shell shocked for quite a while after. I know the canyons the author writes about and every little detail hit home for me. So, needless to say, I connected with the story from the beginning.

You can draw parallels to Stephen King’s horror masterpiece, IT, as mentioned in reviews here and there, but Willow Man is not IT and is its own horror masterpiece. The flavor is similar enough in that, if you love coming of age stories and you love the classic battle of good vs. evil; you can’t get enough bittersweet love and second chances and most of all you LOVE an epilogue that throws everything you found comfort in out the window, then Willow Man is for you just as much as IT.

Woody, Bobby, the twins Jeremy and Chuck and the total badass that is Cathy are inseparable childhood friends and the author nails the dialog and interactions in this group perfectly. And that is what elevates this to a classic for me. It’s so easy to make kids and preteens terrible, unreadable, but to make them real and to root for them as hard as I rooted for this group is impressive and the connection between their childhood and adult selves is flawless.

This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to with Austin Rising as the narrator and I need to hear more from him ASAP. There was a huge range of characters to cover in Willow Man and he got them all just right. Every bit of terror and every word of love was so organic I got caught up in the story from the first line to the last listening to him read the authors words.

Willow Man is evil incarnate. The amount of detail and backstory for him was just enough to make sure all his motivations were understood, and he’s just subtle enough to keep you extra off center while you’re listening. There’s no question of his terrible words and deeds and good gravy he’s a villain to beat all villains, but he never gets campy or overdone, he made my skin crawl with what was implied as much as what was described.

The kids though. Every one of them made this story. Sure, Woody and Bobby are the cornerstones of their younger years, but nothing would have worked without all of them together. The dynamics were perfect and the transition from childhood to adulthood was seamless considering the years they missed together.

The relationship between Woody and Bobby was, in a word, beautiful. Sure, they were young, but the love they felt for one another was so, so pure. It made my heart so happy and also filled me with more dread than I should ever feel! It’s a horror story, bad things are coming, I know this as I’m listening, but dammit, it didn’t make ANY of it any easier.

Flash forward to second chances and the epic battle between good and evil, and I couldn’t stop listening. How is this going to play out, how do you defeat Willow Man, when you are literally a man down and their nemesis is inhuman? The playout was ideal. I loved how things worked for the remaining friends and the takedown of Willow Man totally worked for the environment he dwelled in and cultivated all his evil.

And the epilogue, damn you John Inman, I love and hate the epilogue sooooooooo much. The part of me that loves the love pollen hated every bit. The part of me that loves good horror reveled in every word. The epilogue had to happen, it had to be there. I had to listen to Austin Rising scare the crap out of me and unsettle everything before it was over. Thanks for that, I mean that both sincerely and sarcastically and I know that horror fans will get that without any explanation.

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


  1. Gorgeous review. I’m tempted.

    1. Thanks Annery! I highly recommend it, it's such a great read/listen. Painful, horrifying and worth every word!