Title: Summer Sons
Author: Lee Mandelo
Publisher: Tor Books/Macmillan
Length: 336 Pages
Category: Southern Gothic, Horror
Rating: 4.5 Stars
At a Glance: Lee Mandelo’s writing is evocative and provocative, and they tell a complex story with plenty of chills for Horror fans. Summer Sons is some taut and tantalizing Southern Gothic.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him.
As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble.
And there is something awful lurking, waiting for those walls to fall.
Review: Speaking as a reader whose first love is Horror, there are so many things I loved about Lee Mandelo’s debut novel, Summer Sons, though I can’t possibly enumerate them all without accidental spoilers, so suffice to say this story is bona fide Southern Gothic with chills lavished upon its readers in intense scenes entangled in the competitive world of academia, a little drag racing for you adrenaline junkies, recreational drugs, and a gradual unpacking of the relationship between the story’s protagonist, Andrew Blur, and Edward Fulton—Andrew’s brother on paper but in truth something else, something more, something undefined—all wrapped up in a frightening ancestral legacy and a horrifying incident when the boys were teenagers that still haunts Andrew in that word’s most literal sense.
When Eddie began pursuing answers about his family’s past and a curse instigated generations before by a Fulton ancestor, he did so under the purview of research for an American Studies graduate program at Vanderbilt University. What he tapped into was the makings of a devil’s bargain, some blood magic, and, tragically, he crossed someone who would stop at nothing to seize the power and potential of the family curse. Andrew’s arrival in Nashville to take up his own investigation into Eddie’s death eventually reveals the lengths someone was willing to go to, to bait the trap Eddie fell headlong into when that sinister someone came close to harnessing what they sought to control.
Through it all, Andrew struggles with the depth and breadth of his grief, where more questions than answers only serve to make that grief sharper and further obscures what Andrew had always believed he meant to Eddie. Andrew not only inherited a hefty sum of money and property upon Eddie’s death, he inherited an obsession to understand why Eddie had lied to him to keep him far away from Nashville. How Andrew is meant to find all the answers he’s looking for when some of what Eddie had discovered in his research is now missing, who the group of friends are that Eddie had become entangled with, and why Eddie’s murder was made to look like suicide when Andrew is seeing otherwise all serve to complicate the plot and keep readers as wrongfooted as Andrew feels.
Lee Mandelo’s writing is evocative and provocative, and they tell a complex story that draws upon the south’s history and exemplifies the genre itself, encompassing a robust cast of characters who not only help Andrew on his quest for the truth, but some of whom give Andrew leeway to understand the closeness and intimacies he shared with Eddie, though neither of them ever named it. Riley, the roommate Andrew inherited with the house in Nashville, and Riley’s cousin Sam, figure most prominently in Eddie’s friendships, which Andrew reluctantly inherited as well, thanks entirely to Sam’s persistence. The way Sam pushes and flirts with Andrew without being blatantly flirtatious involves those fast cars mentioned in the blurb, and the adrenaline high of drag racing and some hair-raising moments became an essential way of connecting Andrew with this group of people he’d had no intention of befriending; they were merely meant to be useful tools. I will admit, however, that as someone who sees cars as a simple means of getting me from point A to point B, the thrill of those scenes missed me even as I understood their usefulness.
The climax of the story gives fans of the Horror genre the adrenaline punch we expect and appreciate, which only leaves what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle between Andrew and Sam unfinished. Their resolution is left to the imagination of the reader rather than tied up in a neat and tidy bow, because in this genre “And they all lived . . .” is the only place to start.
You can buy Summer Sons here:
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