A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
For eight months, the peculiar circumstances surrounding the sudden death of Steven Brandwein’s lover, an enigmatic ex-priest, have weighted his mourning with mystery. Desperate for emotional closure, Steve makes a journey he’s put off for years: he travels to the town that was once an integral part of his late lover’s life. Steve hopes his pilgrimage will help him better understand Frank, serve as a final farewell, and allow him to move on.
His visit to St. Jerome’s Church one snowy, silent night proves more consequential than he’d ever anticipated. Evan McAllister, an unassuming man still grieving over the death of his son, befriends Steve. As their bond grows, they both make startling discoveries—not the least of which, for Steve, is that he’s ready to love again.
A few months ago, in the comments of a not-so-favorable review I did, there was some discussion about DSP and the range in quality of the books they have been putting out. In that discussion, KZ Snow fretted about her upcoming releases with them — of which this is one — based on what we were saying. Well, she needn’t have worried. What a great little story The Prayer Waltz is! It is the first book by her that I’ve read and I wonder why it has taken me this long. Looking at her backlist, though, I think it’s because the majority of her works are either paranormal and/or futuristic, neither of which are favorite genres for me. At any rate, I’m really glad I read this lovely, well- and tightly-written novella.
Steve’s lover, Frank, died eight months ago in a mysterious accident and Steve has travelled to Prism Falls, Wisconsin, in the hopes of finding some answers. Prism Falls is the town where Frank spent quite a few years as a priest, and first stop for Steve is St. Jerome’s — or St. Jerry’s as the locals call it — where he was pastor. In the midst of a trio cleaning the church, one of whom is a man buffing the floors, and with a heavy heart, he prays to whoever is listening. Heading off to the bar across the street when he is done, he meets up with the “buff buffer,” Evan. As they chat, Frank’s name comes up and Evan’s reaction seems a touch excessive upon hearing about his former pastor’s passing. Knowing there must be something more to the story, Steve invites Evan back to his room to finish the conversation where he learns, among other things, that Evan’s teenage son died a year ago. As the days pass and the more he discovers about Frank’s existence in Prism Falls, the more he realizes how little he knew of the man with whom he spent four years. He also finds himself falling for the quiet, unassuming Evan.
This quiet, sweet and gentle story is effectively told in three ways: first-person narration by Steve, third-person flashbacks by Evan and letters to Scott (Evan’s son) by Evan. I found both protags to be very likeable and sympathetic, two normal guys dealing with grief the best way they know how, and now helping each other with their healing. These are the kind of people I would be friends with, and I found myself wanting to console and help them. I felt the chemistry beneath the sorrow, and I thought their attraction and romance to be completely believable; even though they get together relatively quickly, there is no insta-love here, and a hopeful HFN felt just right. I could easily see an HEA for these two.
If you’re thinking that this is a heavy book based on the blurb, fear not. Yes, there is sorrow and angst, but there is also laughter and love. There was such a range of emotions here for me: I teared up (Evan’s letters to his son and Steve’s prayers had me grabbing for Kleenex), my pulse raced a bit at the steamy smexxin, I sighed in happiness, I laughed (especially at Steve’s funny, loud comments during sex):
“I am so being fucked!” I shouted, mindlessly pulling at my dick.
Evan’s hips swung forward. The sudden fullness was exquisite.
“Pack me, Evan!”
“Steve, for chrissake, don’t make me laugh.”
I whimpered as he found the perfect rhythm. “I love cock.”
For secondary characters, there are none that take up a whole lot of screen time, but I really liked Peg, one of the church cleaning trio who talks with Steve when he comes in that first time (as well as later in the book). And then there’s Frank, who even dead is as much of a presence as a third protag, and who we get to know almost as well as Steve and Evan know him — or maybe as little, as that is one of the points of the story.
Regarding the mystery element of the book — what the heck Frank was all about and what were the exact circumstances of his death — I thought the resolution was healthy and therapeutic. It could have turned out to be a different tale altogether if the author had gone the route of focusing solely on trying to get to the bottom of Frank’s enigmatic life (and death), and I’m glad she went the way she did. It caused just enough angst to add yet another emotional layer, but not enough to weigh it down.
I highly recommend this wonderful novella by an author that I will keep an eye out for in the future.