Title: Across the East River Bridge
Author: Kate McMurray
Cover Artist: Valerie Tibbs
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Historical Romance-lite/Murder Mystery/Paranormal
Length: Novel/70K words
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: I liked this tale of two couples and a murder-mystery that took place a hundred and forty years apart.
When Finn’s boss sends him to a museum in Brooklyn, the last person he expects to see is his old rival, Troy. Finn still blames Troy for sending his career off the rails, but Troy has research Finn needs. Troy also has an intriguing story; the museum he curates is haunted by the ghosts of two men who died under mysterious circumstances in 1878. Troy strikes a deal: he’ll help Finn if Finn helps him find out what happened to the men who died.
From diaries, police reports, and newspaper articles, Finn and Troy piece together the lives of the two dead men—and the romance that bloomed between them—and it becomes clear that the men were murdered. It also becomes clear that the ghosts are real and are capable of manipulating the dreams, thoughts, and actions of the living. When Finn and Troy start falling for each other, Finn worries that it’s all an illusion concocted by the ghosts to keep them working together to solve the mystery, but Troy is convinced the love between them is real. But how can he get rid of a couple of ghosts and prove it?
This is not a book I normally would request for reviewing as I’m not so hot on the paranormals — and I didn’t do so here, but circumstances had it falling into my lap. After reading it, I’m not sorry it did (and no Wave, don’t be now expecting me to be choosing all of the paranormals from here on out ). I found Across the East River Bridge, the first book by this author that I’ve read, to be a well-written, engaging story that wraps the present and past together well with romance and a murder mystery sub-plot.
The story opens with Finn heading from Manhattan across the East River to visit Brill House, a converted brownstone museum dedicated to nineteenth-century Brooklyn and filled with local history. When he gets there he is unhappily surprised to find that the curator is his old rival Troy, with whom he shares a rocky and steamy past. Having met fifteen years before, both men went through the NYU history department from undergrads through PhD programs, but only Troy succeeded. Finn blames the other man for his academic failures and subsequent professional woes, but not enough to miss engaging in some serious smexxin with Troy on and over the years. Troy lures a generally-pissed-off Finn into helping him research the deaths of two men who lived at Brill House in the late 1800s. Troy is convinced that the ghosts of these men haunt the house and he thinks that helping to solve the mystery of their deaths will bring peace to the spirits. Finn is highly skeptical, but begins to rethink his opinion about it as both he and Troy have their dreams and waking thoughts apparently manipulated by the ghosts as well as witnessing some physical happenings in the house. When they begin to have strong feelings for the other, the only way to determine if those are real is to solve the hundred-and-some-year-old murder mystery and have the ghosts move on.
This story is narrated in alternating third-person points of view by not only our two contemporary protags Finn and Troy, but we also get a partial view of the world Teddy and Wash live in via diary entries and our heroes dreaming their way into the dead mens’ lives and bodies. There have been times in the past where I have read a book with a premise utilizing back-and-forth in time to lesser effect, but I never felt confused here and I thought the author handled and presented it well.
Themes of history (both personal and regional/national), homophobia (external and internal), and changes in the homosexual lifestyle and its social acceptance over the last hundred and forty years are all prevalent in the tale. Additionally, the theme of love and sex being separate is here with the opposite experiences our four heroes have (Teddy/Wash have love before sex, and Troy/Finn have sex before love) as well as it being an hot topic in Victorian America (free love, infidelity, morals, decency, etc).
I admit to having a little bit of difficulty warming up to Finn. His long-held grudges seemed a bit overdone, and like Troy, I had frustration over his continued animosity. He explains himself later in the story and I bought it, and by the end he grew on me. I liked watching him being dragged kicking and screaming into admitting to himself and everyone else that he even liked, much less loved, Troy.
“You like me,” Troy said. He sounded smug.
“A tiny bit.” It was true that Finn was starting to develop feelings for Troy—strange happy feelings, deep emotional feelings, feelings that made him think it was better to linger in bed with Troy after sex rather than to run out the door—but he didn’t want to give Troy the satisfaction of admitting that. “It’s not worth gloating about.”
Troy laughed. “You’re a stubborn bastard, darling.”
I liked Troy immediately, even though he is flawed as well. A bit pretentious, academically snooty, and possessing a love of being right (and revels in being so), I loved the whole “Clark Kent” thing he had going on as a glasses-wearing history nerd and gym rat wrapped into one package. He’s is both amused and frustrated over Finn’s lasting anger and resentment, and he is certainly the more laid-back and open-minded of the two in many ways.
While the greater part of the story features Finn and Troy, Teddy and Wash are lesser MCs as well. We get to know them via diary entries, but also through the dreams Finn and Troy have that place them into the bodies and minds of the dead men. As with many historicals, the fact that two men could not be open about their relationship was sad to me.
The majority of the secondary cast features members/friends of the same group of younger historians who study Victorian America that Finn and Troy belong to. They were all fine with no standouts for either good or bad. Finn’s boss is a cranky writer and she came across exactly as I believe we are expected to take her as — intense, a little eccentric and well, cranky.
The murder-mystery sub-plot is sufficiently complex, mostly I think because it’s a hundred-some-year-old cold case. We are not in the heads of the two dead men long enough with enough to see exactly what happens until the end, so Troy and Finn must rely on what they find in the chronological diary entries, newspaper articles and old police reports to speculate the culprit. The paranormal element is not of a scary nature, with the ghosts of Teddy and Wash being more like guides than anything.
Immersed in the local, real history of Brooklyn, the story makes frequent mention of, among others, Henry Ward Beecher, Anthony Comstock and Victoria Woodhull, the latter the subject of a book Finn’s boss is writing. This history is integrated and interwoven into the fiction very well, with political and social commentary laced through. While I can’t attest to the accuracy of the factual history, locale, tone and manner of speaking, etc, used in the early 1870s, it all sounded good to me and the little I did research while reading checked out.
Regarding the last, I admit that as I was reading, I was interested in the area, trying to picture the places she wrote about. Low and behold, after I finished and started the prep work for writing this review, I came across this on the author’s website which features a special feature of the “making of” this book, including pictures of places that inspired her. Find it here: http://www.katemcmurray.com/2011/10/across-the-east-river-bridge-special-features/
If you don’t mind a little ghostly action and animosity along with your romance and solving of a murder-mystery, pick up Across the East River Bridge.
Across the East River Bridge releases tomorrow, Oct 11, with Loose Id.