Elien is a young man who is a part of a therapy group for victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had found his parents murdered by his older brother Gard who also committed suicide. Another member of the group is a sheriff’s deputy named Mason. Mason hates Elien, but he can’t give any reason as to why. When Elien tries to contact a missing member of the therapy group he realizes something is amiss at the missing member’s home and calls for law enforcement, which brings in another deputy named Dag and his partner Mason. What Dag and Elien experience defy description, and Mason’s irrational hatred for Elien may drive him to do the unthinkable.
Author Gregory Ashe is no stranger to the world of LGBTQ fiction, primarily mystery novels, but with his newest book Stray Fears he dives headfirst into the world of horror, but this is a horror story with layers. As I started reading I felt this was dealing with the psychological horror of surviving a terrible trauma, especially regarding Elien and the deputy Mason, who was the victim of a shooting. At first, Ashe alternates chapters as he explores both Elian’s and Mason’s traumas and how each one of them is coping. Both of them cope in entirely different ways. Elien pushes people away through sarcasm and makes unhealthy jokes about committing self-harm. Mason, on the other hand, has nothing but violent thoughts toward Elien that escalate towards a tragic incident involving Dag. The amount of detail Ashe gives with both Elien and Mason was frighteningly specific leading me to believe that this was a psychological horror. Even when another terrifying incident happens to Elien I was still under the same impression as to the nature of this particular horror story. At least, that’s what I thought until Dag witnesses something unexplainable himself. Now Ashe takes us into the horror of the unknown and gives us further glimpses into the minds of Elien and now Dag. Before this is all over the horror is revealed and our two men find themselves fighting against a monster of terrifying proportions. However, Ashe likes to mix things up with his story by adding a most unusual element of comedy. Dag is gay, but after a disastrous relationship years earlier he finds that he’s not wanting to risk his heart, despite starting to have feelings for Elien. Because of his terrible previous relationship, he is back to living with his parents whose support of having a gay son is outrageously over the top. They are a Pride Parade and PFLAG all rolled into one, much to Dag’s constant embarrassment. This is an area that Ashe could have gone too far with, but he delivered it with just the right amount of restraint making for scenes with Dag’s parents hilariously funny. Then there is the growing relationship between Elien and Dag. For all of Elien’s insults and histrionics Dag handles him with an amazing sense of calm. Watching how these two related to each other made me think that part of this book was an LGBTQ take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Nevertheless, it is beautifully handled because through Dag’s patience and steadfastness he helps to peel back the layers of pain and trauma that surround Elien’s true personality and gives us a chance to catch a glimpse of the real Elien. Ashe’s attempts at making Elien’s and Dag’s relationship and growth perfectly paced as well as perfectly believable.
Lastly, the mystery regarding the monster was excellently played as each time I thought that I knew where the threat truly lied, so did our protagonists. Finally, when I thought I had it figured out Ashe pulled a rabbit out of his hat and delivered a surprise that in hindsight makes perfect sense. In short, he surprised me, and this is the kind of surprise that I like to receive!
Stray Fears is a thoroughly enjoyable read, but due to its adult themes, it should be read by those who are 18 and over. It had characters that I grew to like as well as a complex story that had just the right type and amount of misdirection that kept me engaged through to the end.
I give Stray Fears 5 out of 5 Blue Fireflies!