A guest review by Jenre
Edwin Masters isn’t a big gearhead, but he has spent his entire life lusting after one particular car—a 1962 Alfa Romeo Spider 2600. It’s not the flashiest car, it’s not the fastest car, and it’s not the most collectible car, but he loves it. Edwin knows he’ll pay any price for it. When he buys it, it changes the entire shape and meaning of his world, but not in the ways he might have predicted.
Cooper James, the young man who died behind the wheel forty-seven years earlier, haunts the Spider and he wants a life. He wants Edwin. So he reaches out, sucking Edwin into a deepening abyss by exploiting demons from a past Edwin can’t break from.
Edwin resists, struggling against the phantom in favor of an attractive, exciting young man who wants to be with him, Carson Heston. Carson holds the key to Edwin’s salvation, but every time he gets close, Cooper terrorizes him. Edwin knows he’ll be lost forever if he submits to Cooper’s dark promise of release and relief, but that might be the only way to save Carson’s life.
This ghostly paranormal story may not be to everyone’s taste with its themes of lust and desire from beyond the grave and how that affects the lives of two men, but I found it to be a compelling read.
On a Bruised Road begins with a car – a 1962 Alpha Romeo Spider. Edwin has been saving up, and searching all his life for this car. He’s finally found one in mint condition and when he slides behind the wheel, the experience is almost orgasmic.
Edwin slid behind the steering wheel, closing his eyes to absorb the ambience, the atmosphere, of the car. For a moment, everything felt perfect. The sun was high overhead, heating the leather, and the steering wheel was solid against his palms. The most solid thing in the world. Something inside of him surged, like fire erupting from a mountain. Sparks swirled in a whirlwind, spiraling through his core, engulfing his heart. It was akin to love, or maybe a junkie’s rush of adrenaline.
I’m not a big fan of cars in general, but Edwin’s utter contentment at finally finding this car, after all the time, effort and money he had spent looking for it, immediately made me warm to his character. Edwin has had a rough past. He was addicted to pain killers in his twenties and so feels that he has somehow missed out on that part of his life. At 47 he is unhappy at this supposed lost youth and does think, with a great deal of resentment, of all the missed opportunities that his addiction caused.
Edwin’s contentment with his new car is short lived when he discovers that it is haunted by the ghost of a young man called Cooper who died in a accident whilst driving the car in 1962. Cooper is attached to the car, and can interact with people most strongly when in or next to the car, but he can also exist outside the car, although not usually in a fully formed way. Cooper sees how much Edwin loves his car and, in his loneliness, becomes obsessively attached to Edwin with whom he can talk and even touch. Edwin is at first horrified by Cooper, but through his own lack of self worth, plus Cooper’s manipulation starts to consider whether he should give in to Cooper’s demands to be with him. Into this situation comes Carson who also likes Edwin and wants to get to know him better. This proves to be difficult when Cooper’s jealousy threatens to put a stop to their blossoming relationship.
The strength of this story lies with the character of Edwin and his conflicting emotions as he tries to choose between a ghost and the very-much-alive Carson. There are a whole host of reasons why he should choose Carson, who is funny, sexy, hard working and finds the much older Edwin a complete turn on. Yet every time Edwin makes the decision that he wants Carson, Cooper gets into his head and uses Edwin’s insecurities about his age and his addictive personality to manipulate him to the extent that he even forgets to turn up to dates with Carson. It is even worse when Edwin is having sex with Carson, as Cooper tries to invade his thoughts and get Edwin to think about him, rather than Carson. The whole three-way relationship, with Edwin as a pawn in the middle, left me feeling very uncomfortable – in a good way. I’m a lover of psychological horror stories and found this one to be utterly chilling. The way that Cooper uses Edwin to assuage his loneliness and in doing so plays on all Edwin’s fears of getting old was quite unsettling. It made me squirm, it made me want to shout at Edwin for being so foolish and yet I also felt a great deal of sorrow and pity for Cooper.
Another part which worked well in this book was Edwin and his previous addiction to painkillers. The fact that Edwin knows that he has a weakness, not just for painkillers but for any drug, be it alcohol or even sex was an interesting concept. Cooper is able to invade Edwin’s dreams and put him into a coma-like state similar to that of some drugs. This frightens Edwin and yet the sense of peace, of being disconnected to the real world, is addictive to Edwin and he allows Cooper to take over his mind, almost killing him in the process. This contentment Edwin feels when in this dream-like state is contrasted with the difficulties he has in real life, making being with Cooper seductive and an easy option. I liked how this became a metaphor for the drugs that he took in his youth and I could see that Cooper’s influence is more an addiction than a choice. This made some of the decisions that Edwin makes more easy to stomach.
If I have any negative things to say about this book, it would be that the end was just a little too conveniently done and perhaps that, when compared to the complexity of Edwin and Cooper, Carson was a little less fleshed out.
One note of warning: This book does contain quite a graphic and harrowing scene of non-con sex. I can’t say much about it as it would give too much away in terms of spoilers, but I’d ask you not to let that put you off the book. The scene marks a turning point in the relationship between the three men and, as a result, is not gratuitous but rather very necessary to the plot.
Overall, I was completely hooked by On a Bruised Road. I got very annoyed when RL meant that I had to put the book down. The complex, creepy psychological plot and the swift pacing all combined to make this an exciting journey, one which was enhanced by the flawed emotions of the characters. I highly recommend this book for those readers who love horror and chilling psychological drama.