Title: The Haunting of St. Xavier
Authors: Carol Lynne & T.A. Chase
Cover Artist: April Martinez
Buy Link: Buy Link The Haunting of St. Xavier
Genre: M/M Paranormal
Length: Novella (55K words)
Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: This novella about the bloody haunting of several long-dead nuns toes the line to becoming horror. Though at times thrilling, the mystery and romance both fell a little short of the mark.
Justice comes to all in time.
Although empty for over fifty years, St. Xavier Monastery was still an awe inspiring structure and Jason Bentley thought he’d found the perfect location for his newest resort. Yet once construction begins to bring the magnificent building back to its former glory, odd events begin to occur. While the death of a stonemason shakes Jason, he decides to continue anyway. Everything changes the night Jason’s confronted by a nun covered in blood on the fourth floor. Staring into the haunting eyes of a ghost rocks Jason’s emotions. Unsure of where to turn, Jason seeks the advice of the local Catholic Church.
Deacon Ryan Christopher has decisions to make. While his mentor, Bishop Adler, presses him to commit fully to the church, Ryan has reservations. For years he’s resisted his desire for male companionship and he can’t take his vows until he makes a decision. Though struggling with personal issues, Ryan has also followed the events at St. Xavier in the papers. No stranger to things that go bump in the night, Ryan believes Jason and agrees to help him investigate the monastery.
The spirits that haunt St. Xavier have waited decades for justice and revenge, but who will be the recipients of their hatred?
Though not a horror connoisseur, I do love a nice, juicy scary story from time to time and hauntings are my favorite. So I was excited to see what delightful evils TA Chase and Carol Lynne could create with their co-authored novella, The Haunting of St. Xavier. The story begins when Jason Bentley, an entrepreneur who creates erotically-themed gay resorts, buys the remains of St. Xavier Monastery for a new project. The brooding building has stayed silent and empty for 50 years, and like all abandoned and neglected buildings, it is believed by the locals to be haunted. Jason doesn’t believe in ghosts — he is a pragmatic man who understands business, the things you can do when you put your mind to something, and the temporary hands of a new lover. He starts construction, and immediately the work site seems to be plagued with bad luck and misfortune. Doors that are well oiled get stuck, mysterious stains seem to appear in the hardwood floors, and before long one of his stonemasons dies from a fall off the bell tower. The delays are adding up and so are the unexpected bills as Jason and his team constantly re-evaluate the runaway project. Jason, however, will not give up, even when his strong disbelief in the paranormal starts to waver after seeing a nun covered in blood on the fourth floor and then being injured himself.
Jason knows he needs answers and heads to the place most likely to have them — the local Catholic church. There he meets Deacon Ryan Christopher, presiding over the church in the wake of the Priest’s recent death. Ryan has heard of the recent death at St. Xavier and it has awoken his curiosity about the place. As a medium, Ryan can speak to ghosts, though he has been afraid of the ability since his abuse at a young age from whom he believed to be his imaginary friend, a pedophile who used to live in the house he shared as a child with his drunken stepfather. After the church took him in as a boy, he has felt indebted to the Bishop and Father. Now, as he keeps pushing back the date of his vows into the Priesthood himself, he sees Jason’s arrival and his subsequent interest into the secrets that the Bishop refuses to reveal as a sign from God — to choose the path of honesty in his homosexuality. The attraction between Ryan and Jason only seems to strengthen the bond he feels with the first gay man he has allowed himself to be interested in. Their growing relationship is soon muted, however, by the growing anger of the spirits inside the monastery, and Ryan soon learns that he has a closer connection to the place than through Jason.
There is quite a bit of wealth of detail with this story, which really excited me. Not only do we have the growing relationship and the mystery of the haunted monastery, but we also have the history of the characters themselves. Ryan, in particular, is a fascinating character. He is late to accepting himself (and his nature as a sexual being, by proxy), as a result of his place in the Catholic Church, his relationship with his mentor, the Bishop, and his childhood as a sexually abused boy. The first half of this story was quite a treat as all of these layers are revealed. As the mystery of the monastery is explored, so is the relationship between Ryan and Jason — a symbiotic shedding of the secrets of the past and the healing there can be in the truth.
The story, as it is set up to be, is quite a good one. The problem I had is that the great payoff from all of the detailed setup never comes, like a story that is missing 100 pages of continually progressing plot. A relationship between a recently reformed playboy and a priest is rife with problems that must be overcome without the added psychic ability, hauntings, and past abuse. Yet, after those issues were set up, they seemed conveniently thrust aside for a convenient ending, wrapped up nice a neat. Similarly, I found that the haunting subplot was dealt with in the same way — a slowly revealing mystery that conveniently “clicks” into place for the characters a little too nicely, leaving many questions unanswered and many avenues completely unexamined. The subject matter presented and so slowly explored in the beginning is too large to explore in such a short time. This story either needed tighter writing or more pages to explore both plotlines. This rushing to end the story naturally bothers me (and I seem to encounter it quite a bit in this genre, though less often lately), but it also means that the characters often feel inauthentic. Ryan would need more time to come to terms with his sexuality, no matter the situation he is placed in. I also find it hard to believe that Jason would immediately be excited without reservations at feeling deeply for another man for the first time. Sadly, these things were never dealt with.
One of the shining stars of the story was Roland, Jason’s charmingly flamboyant assistant, who always put a smile on my face when he was on page. Even though the ending left me unsatisfied, the mystery of the bloody nuns and the haunted monastery was interesting and kept me reading. Though I found the end less scary, I certainly felt a few chills while reading the story. With a little more work this could have been a delightful story, but I can’t enthusiastically recommend it. It is certainly worth reading if you’re a fan of Carol Lynne or TA Chase. It is also a good book for those who like scary, but not too scary. I’d also like to give kudos to April Martinez for the cover design, which I find incredibly appealing and drew me to the story. All in all, this is a solid three star read that will please some, but doesn’t hold up to critical reads. Conditionally Recommended.