Title: Bath Haus
Author: P.J. Vernon
Publisher: Doubleday/Random House
Length: 305 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: Bath Haus is one of the best Thrillers I’ve had the intense pleasure to read in quite some time. For readers who love to dig into what makes a character tick, this book is rife with opportunity. If you’re one of the seemingly few folks who haven’t read it yet, all I can say is that it is utterly delectable.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Oliver Park, a recovering addict from Indiana, finally has everything he ever wanted: sobriety and a loving, wealthy partner in Nathan, a prominent DC trauma surgeon. Despite their difference in age and disparate backgrounds, they’ve made a perfect life together. With everything to lose, Oliver shouldn’t be visiting Haus, a gay bathhouse. But through the entrance he goes, and it’s a line crossed. Inside, he follows a man into a private room, and it’s the final line. Whatever happens next, Nathan can never know. But then, everything goes wrong, terribly wrong, and Oliver barely escapes with his life.
He races home in full-blown terror as the hand-shaped bruise grows dark on his neck. The truth will destroy Nathan and everything they have together, so Oliver does the thing he used to do so well: he lies.
Review: Years ago, my then fifteen-year-old son was trying to convince me that I needed to watch Game of Thrones, so I asked him to tell me what it was about. His answer was, “Well . . . basically everything is not okay,” and frankly, I can’t think of a better way to sum up P.J. Vernon’s stellar psychological thriller, Bath Haus, than that. Because not only is everything not okay in this book, but no one in it is okay, either.
When we’re introduced to Oliver Park, it doesn’t take long to deduce that he’s a prolific liar. Whether he’s a proficient liar, however, is revealed methodically over the course of this book as he weaves and spins and is drawn further into his own tangled web of deceit. We are caught up in his lies along with him as he is in the process of cheating on his partner—or husband, as Nathan prefers—with whichever stranger captures his interest at Haus, the bathhouse he’s chosen to commit the act. Vernon gets the mood and vibe of that opening scene pitch-perfect as we walk with Oliver through the darkened hallways and perceive what he is perceiving at every turn. When he meets the man he decides is “the one”, a man named Kristian who is gorgeous, enigmatic, sexy, and is ready to give Oliver what he wants, that moment is fraught with an energy that soon turns sinister, and that moment is only the beginning of many more ominous ones to come.
The imbalance of power in Oliver and Dr. Nathan Klein’s relationship plays a role as the story unfolds. That Oliver is a former addict and Nathan a doctor who could be said to have preyed on Oliver at his most vulnerable, in addition to the gap in their ages and social/economic statuses, each serve to establish that imbalance, and we witness it suffocating Oliver while, at the same time, we wonder if he needs the direction Nathan provides to keep Oliver from backsliding into old habits. The answer to that is made evident in the vast difference between doing something for someone’s own good and lying to and manipulating them because you want complete control over them. This is the abyss that stands between Nathan, Oliver and anything like a healthy partnership, and to carry the analogy to its conclusion, that abyss eventually tells us what they are made of.
There is no character I would label as the hero of this story, or even the antihero, for that matter. Everyone in this book is either a psychopath, a sociopath, a narcissist, an enabler, a manipulator, a victim, or any combination of these traits. Detective Rachel Henning comes closest to hero-like. She is the lead investigator on Oliver’s case when he realizes that he’s in way over his head and needs to involve the police before Kristian succeeds at what he failed to do at the bathhouse. Oliver muddies his own waters with his lies of omission and commission, though, and between his obfuscations and his abject fear of Nathan discovering the truth, he comes close to helping Kristian achieve his end goal rather than thwarting him.
Bath Haus is one of the best Thrillers I’ve had the intense pleasure to read in quite some time. For readers who love to dig into what makes a character tick, this book is rife with opportunity. Avarice, jealousy, lust, duplicity, complicity, and addiction are mere threads in the whole cloth of the story. I was kept guessing from the start, and when the plot morphs into a game of cat and mouse—where Oliver is the mouse and there is seemingly a cat around every corner—we are offered clues that are significant to Oliver’s encounter with Kristian and the subsequent stalking that endangers his life and relationship. The tension and suspense is ratcheted up to pulse-pounding levels as P.J. Vernon tells a tale of compulsion and trauma and abuse and the utmost distorted definition of love. If you’re one of the seemingly few folks who haven’t read this book yet, all I can say is that it is utterly delectable.
You can buy Bath Haus here:
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