In an effort to get him to relax after a particularly bad work week, Wyatt's friend Noah introduces him to Ash, a bartender at Gravedigger's. Wyatt is a museum curator with a deep love of research and history. Ash is energetic, has almost rockstar status at the bar (he's one of its famous flair bartenders), has a tongue ring, and dresses in Gaslight style. They hit it off almost right away, but Wyatt panics and messes things up a bit.
While Wyatt attempts to simultaneously keep his job and win back Ash's trust, strange things start happening at Gravedigger's. The staff hear odd noises after closing time, the air conditioning is on the fritz, and Ash swears he keeps seeing a strange man. Is Gravedigger's haunted, or is something else going on?
I'm pretty sure I bought this one because it had some good reviews, I'd heard good things about Riptide Publishing, and I liked the cover.
Wyatt and Ash got along almost instantly, which led to them falling in bed together only hours after meeting each other, something I tend not to be fond of in romantic storylines. On the one hand, I liked that Wyatt promptly messed it all up. It meant that their relationship didn't turn smooth and boring – Wyatt had to work at fixing things between them, and a simple apology wasn't enough. On the other hand, it made for occasionally uncomfortable reading, and I wasn't entirely convinced by Ash's later forgiveness. I thought the two of them should have talked things over more. Still, I enjoyed their mutual love of history, and they made a cute enough mismatched couple. Wyatt, the blushing academic, and Ash, the charismatic showman with tongue rings he switched out to match his mood and/or clothes. I had no clue so many different kinds of tongue rings existed.
Noah and Caleb made an even better couple, in my opinion. They had a few very nice moments that made me wish they had their own book. Sadly, one of the areas where The Gravedigger's Brawl failed a little was in characterization. I barely felt like I got to know Ash and Wyatt, much less Noah and Caleb. It was hard to remember that Delilah and Ryan even existed. The fun banter mostly made it easy for me overlook this, though.
As far as the scary stuff goes, I'll just start by saying I'm a horror lightweight. Some of the spooky bits worked on me and some did not. I tensed up whenever Ash, Wyatt, or the others heard strange sounds in the dark or felt that there was something behind them. The dripping from the ceiling was a nice touch. However, the ghost itself didn't really scare me for some reason, and the attempts to inject doubts about whether Ash had really seen the ghost didn't throw me at all. I think part of the problem was that I like spooky, dread-inspiring atmosphere, and this book never sustained that feeling for long. I actually found myself wishing that the story had been scarier than it was.
All in all, I really liked Roux's “voice” and Ash and Wyatt were a reasonably interesting couple. It was also kind of refreshing that there was absolutely no gay-related angst - no homophobic board members making things hard for Wyatt just because he was gay, no homophobic museum goers. However, the horror aspects could have been better, especially since they were more the focus of the book than the relationships were.
- There is a lot of lip biting in this book. Okay, so some of it is during sex, but not all of it. “He bit his lip, but continued to smile.” “Wyatt bit his lip to keep from laughing...”, etc. Enough to be a little distracting.
- This may be the very first enhanced ebook I've read. The first link I noticed in the text was one for flair bartending. When I clicked on it, it took me to a YouTube video of a flair bartending contest winner. This was nice, although I wouldn't have been able to see it had I been reading this on my e-ink reader rather than on my tablet. The other links throughout the book, all for music, were dead.
- The Dead of Winter (book) by Chris Priestley - This has absolutely no romance in it - I'm mostly adding it to this list for having a type of horror similar to Roux's book. Horror lightweights who enjoy "creepy sounds and atmosphere" horror may want to give this a try. It's a middle grade/YA horror novel with just enough scary stuff to make for a tense reading experience - about the level of horror The Gravedigger's Brawl would have had if it had kicked up the creepy atmosphere a notch. Read my review here.
- These Haunted Heights (e-book) by Ally Blue - I haven't read this one. The description makes it sound like an angsty contemporary m/m romance, but there are also paranormal elements in the form of a ghost.
- Lessons in Love (e-book) by Charlie Cochrane - This one is historical m/m romance with a mystery/suspense element. I've read it and enjoyed it enough to want to read more of the series, although I haven't reviewed it. Those who'd like another slightly mismatched couple (in this case, one outgoing academic and one introverted academic) paired with some suspense might want to give this a try.