Author: Jeff Erno
Cover artist: Maria Fanning
Amazon buy link: The Left-Hand Path
Genre: Paranormal m/m romance
Length: 180 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Guest review by Orion
Review summary: An eerie yet very romantic story.
William Austin has always wanted to be a nurse, though he’s no longer sure the gratification is worth the pain of losing a patient. For now, he’s a nursing student and works two jobs—barista and private nurse. Will meets Blaine Coventry at the coffee shop, and when the altruistic young attorney offers him a job caring for his Uncle Elliot, Will accepts. Will finds that Elliot’s stroke has left him unable to walk or talk, and Elliot’s husband, James, says the goal is to keep Elliot comfortable until he passes. But Will starts rehabilitation, and his patient soon begins to make progress. When James resists, Will realizes something isn’t right, and investigates. Then he discovers a chilling secret that threatens to forever change Will’s life… or perhaps end it.
I love stories about the supernatural, and I love stories about romance. I’m not keen, however, on mixing the two genres. They seem incompatible to me for reasons I can’t fully articulate. I suppose it has something to do with how dark the supernatural element is. If it is along the lines of the television series Supernatural—with horrible creatures tearing out throats and such—the paranormal element overpowers and detracts from the romance. If is more along the lines of the television series Charmed (and this story reminded me of that series in many ways), then the two elements are more balanced and the story is more enjoyable.
Jeff Erno finds the right balance here. The Left-Hand Path opens with a nightmare sequence, appropriately enough, and before things get too confusing, we are quickly introduced to William Austin. Will is a college student and aspiring nurse who lives on a tight budget. He is immediately likeable, a warm hearted and optimistic person with such a caring soul that he gets attached to people in circumstances where he knows he shouldn’t, as he does with some of the patients he tends in his job as a nurse’s aide.
The obligatory meet-cute takes place while Will is at his other job at a local Starbucks. In walks Blaine Coventry, a tall and sexy young attorney. They do some light flirting with each other. Then, in an unlikely and predictable occurrence, Will and Blaine run into each other again when Will discovers his car has died on him and Blaine comes to the rescue. Before too much more time has passed, the two men are bedded down, going at each other hot and heavy.
Upon discovering that Will has experience in nursing, Blaine engages him to care for his elderly uncle, Elliot, who has been in a relationship for many years with a man named James. This is where the mysterious supernatural element introduced in the opening pages begins to deepen. Elliot has suffered a stroke and is thought to be in the early stages of dementia. Will’s use of rehabilitative therapy makes a big difference for Elliot, improving the quality of his life. James, oddly enough, takes exception to this. He only wants Elliot kept comfortable until Elliot dies. That, along with Elliot’s desperate attempts to communicate something to him sends Will into investigative mode. The things he uncovers are chilling.
I can’t say more about the plot without giving away details that should best be discovered by the reader. I can say that this is well written, and that Will is a delightfully full and realistic character. Blaine seems less well developed to me, perhaps due to the fact that he is not as present in the story as is Will. The story slips back and forth in time, which can be a dangerously confusing and clumsy device in the hands of an inexperienced writer. The time shifts are skillfully woven into the story here. Jeff Erno keeps a sense of mystery and danger throughout this novella, making good use of settings and whispered warnings. The romance between Will and Blaine is not front and center in the novella, but neither is it overshadowed by the supernatural events that take place here. And for those readers who must have a happy ever after, rest assured that you will get that when all is said and done.
Along with the slight underdevelopment of Blaine, I thought the story felt a bit rushed at times, and some of the questions raised in the plot are never answered. These are issues that could have been resolved by the author with the addition of a few more pages. I also found some of the plot elements a bit predictable. Overall, however, this was a fine, suspenseful read that kept me turning pages. I recommend The Left Hand Path without reservation.