Title: The Door Behind Us
Author: John C. Houser
Cover artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link The Door Behind Us
Genre: historical gay romance
Length: 260 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A guest review by Sirius.
Believable and heart warming tale about two young war veterans who had to adjust to post war reality.
It’s 1919, and Frank Huddleston has survived the battlefields of the Great War. A serious head injury has left him with amnesia so profound he must re-learn his name every morning from a note posted on the privy door.
Gerald “Jersey” Rohn, joined the Army because he wanted to feel like a man, but he returned from the trenches minus a leg and with no goal for his life. He’s plagued by the nightmare of his best friend’s death and has nervous fits, but refuses to associate those things with battle fatigue. He can’t work his father’s farm, so he takes a job supervising Frank, who is working his grandparents’ farm despite his head injury.
When Frank recovers enough to ask about his past, he discovers his grandparents know almost nothing about him, and they’re lying about what they do know. The men set out to discover Frank’s past and get Jersey a prosthesis. They soon begin to care for each other, but they’ll need to trust their hearts and put their pasts to rest if they are to turn attraction into a loving future.
I had waited for the new book from this writer ever since I have read and reviewed his self- published fantasy here. Learning that the book is set in the post-World War I era made me even more eager to read it. After all “Whistling in the Dark” by Tamara Allen is one of my top five favorite gay romances. I also really loved “Bonds of Earth” by G.N.Chevallier. As you may know those stories were also set in post -World War I world and told the stories of young men who in one capacity or another were participating in War and who were lucky enough to come home alive. However of course they were carrying many scars and those books dealt with their tentative steps to recovery and them finding love. This theme of course is the only thing which makes this book I am reviewing right now similar to the two of my favorite stories. The writing style is very different, the characters are different and the plot is different, I just do not want you to get an idea that this book is in any way unoriginal.
Recovery of war veterans is a topic I like reading about, because it gives me hope, but I can also become very annoyed and very fast, when the men who have PTSD or any other illnesses become cured by love instead of actually getting treatment from their illnesses and see some improvement or a lot of improvement. Of course I understand that it is a very fine line the romance writers have to tread, because they do have to show two men developing a relationship and of course if one seeks a relationship, his general mood improves and it is easier to bear any problems (health or any others), IMO anyway. But I cringe when I read the story where PTSD (because this seems to be the most common one in romances) magically disappears at the end, cured by love.
There is no “magical cure” of any kind in this book. The main characters are interesting , likeable, but also felt to me very ordinary guys. And I wish I could experience this feeling more often in romances – that I am reading about ordinary guys, not gorgeous, not super powerful, just boys next door.
You can see from the blurb what kind of wounds both Jersey and Frank encountered at war – Frank lost his memory and Jersey lost his leg and has PTSD. Of course it is not called that, but the description – nightmares, etc, fits very well. I have to say that when I said before that there was no magical cure for both guys, I was especially surprised by what happened with Frank’s amnesia. I did like it a lot, I thought it was refreshing and different, but I was surprised.
I admired how Frank and Jersey may have felt despair at times, but overall they never gave up. Frank was determined to try and find out what happened in his past and he went on the journey to do so. Jersey wanted to help his friend and he went with him, even if the journey to Philadelphia was so very hard for him and at times he was almost ready to give up.
I really liked the slowly developed love story between these two guys. It never jerked me out of historical context, I liked their hesitations – it felt true to times, but not over the top. I also liked that story avoided “ok gay” trope – when everybody is fine and supportive of the developing romance and what people in those times thought about it would not matter. The only supporting character in the story who learns about Jersey and Frank being together does not condemn them, but really insists that it would not be ever discussed in front of this person. I mean, no, there is another supporting character who learns about them but he does not react with anything resembling approval at all.
I really liked that the writer tried to show with as much detail as he could what it meant for the wounded soldier to try and get prosthetic device at that time, I was hoping that Jersey would get it eventually despite device being so expensive. No wonder so many veterans could not afford it. In fact I liked that the story spent quite a lot of time on the possibility of cures (not love cures :)) for Jersey and Frank and for other veterans too. It felt believable and at the same time very inspiring.
I did feel that the chance for this couple to pursue their dreams looked a bit like “let’s give the character a big cookie or two”, but it was believable, so I just went along with it.
I feel like I did not talk enough about the believability of the settings. For me the best praise I can give to the historical story is when I feel that it transported me to another time and this one certainly did. I only visited Philadelphia once, and I really liked it, but this story gave me a chance to visit this city in the 1920s and I really liked it. I also learned some things about Quackers, which I did not know before. At the end of the book the author wrote extensive note explaining the research he did and where he took creative license. I really appreciated it.