Title: Out! (The Shamwell Tales: Book Three)
Author: JL Merrow
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 305 Pages
At a Glance: Out! is most certainly an amusing and thoughtful addition to the Shamwell Tales series, and doesn’t fail to make this reader wish once again that we could all live in the wacky village author JL Merrow writes so lovingly about.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: When love wars with principle, which one will win?
Mark Nugent has spent his life in the closet—at least, the small part of it he hasn’t spent in the office. Divorced when he could no longer deny his sexuality, he’s sworn off his workaholic ways and moved to Shamwell with his headstrong teen daughter to give her a stable home environment.
His resolve to put his love life on hold is severely tested when he joins a local organization and meets a lively yet intense young man who tempts him closer to the closet threshold.
Patrick Owen is an out-and-proud charity worker with strong principles—and a newly discovered weakness for an older man. One snag: Mark is adamant he’s not coming out to his daughter, and Patrick will be damned if he’s going to start a relationship with a lie.
Between Mark’s old-fashioned attitudes and a camp, flirtatious ex-colleague who wants Mark for himself, Patrick wonders if they’ll ever be on the same romantic page. And when Mark’s former career as a tax advisor clashes with Patrick’s social conscience, it could be the one stumbling block they can’t get past.
Review: Out!, the third novel in the Shamwell Tales series by JL Merrow, focuses on the unfortunate Patrick Owen, first seen in the story Played! when he landed a cricket move by stepping down hard into a rabbit hole on the field, putting him in the hospital. Patrick is a very confidant gay man, proud of who he is and the work he does for charity. While he is a bit flirtatious at times, he is also very no-nonsense when it comes to sticking by his principles and fighting for causes he believes to be important. He comes off as a bit worldly-wise beyond his twenty-five years, and is the perfect foil for the uncertain Mark Nugent.
Mark has left a job he was married to, the woman he never should have been married to, and picked up with a teenage daughter he barely knows anymore. To say that Fen is a handful is an understatement, and yet she does love her parents—in that angsty, rebellious teenage way. She is not thrilled that her preoccupied father has decided to quit his job and move to Shamwell and is now bent on re-establishing their relationship. Mark, on the other hand, likes Shamwell, and Fen, even though he is pretty much lost when it comes to reaching his daughter and breaking through the hostile shield she’s erected around herself. The very last thing Mark needs is for anyone to know he is gay—it’s bad enough his ex does and then never fails to throw it back in his face. But after trying to get involved in the community, by joining a men’s club that focuses on drinking and charity work—in that order—he comes face to face with the most compelling gay man he has ever met, and it terrifies him.
Despite the large age gap, Mark is drawn to Patrick, and vice-versa. However, the last thing Patrick intends on being is someone’s dirty little secret, and he refuses to play that game. No matter how attractive Mark is. When David, Mark’s former work assistant, arrives in town, all hell breaks loose which forces some pretty major changes in Mark’s life, and more than a little jealousy to surface for Patrick. It all seems to be a mess that is not easily sorted—unless Mark can be brave and come out of the closet once and for all.
I really feel that the beauty of this series—its real genius—lay in the cast of secondary characters that are ever evolving. From crazy little old ladies to middle-aged drinking buddies and flaming office assistants, JL Merrow works some real magic when it comes to crafting interesting and quirky village folk. I also enjoy how she rotates this pack of crazies in and out of the various novels, giving Shamwell real flavor—more than a hint of a small town where everyone knows your business and never fails to offer their opinion about it. This time she has added a fantastic ex-office assistant, David, and his ridiculous stuffed teddy bear to the mix, along with some rather amusing fellows who are club members and manage, between drunken bouts, to raise money for charity. These characters give this novel such flavor and really aid in fleshing out the main players—in this case, Mark and Patrick.
I so loved Mark. He presents as being this older, sophisticated man and yet beneath that exterior is such a sensitive, lost soul. He is so scared to appear vulnerable and to be honest with his daughter about his fears. Yet we can see he loves her so fiercely—humbly acknowledging that he has really screwed up parenting to this point. It is this near painful introspection on Mark’s part that endears him to the reader, and to Patrick himself. Patrick grows up in this story—realizing that there is much more to falling in love than just physical attraction. He grapples with some serious flaws he discovers in Mark; in particular, his pride in his former area of work. But as time moves on, Patrick also comes to understand that while his principles are right and good, there must be some gray area when it comes to those we love. When it comes down to it, Out! is about more than just a person finally acknowledging to the world that he is gay; it is also about coming to terms with how we can trick ourselves into believing we are something we are not—and learning to love ourselves despite that revelation.
My only problem with this story hinges on something I have noted as an unappealing plot vehicle in this series—the bitchy female character. In the other novels it was played by other dominating women who impacted the main characters rather heavily. In this case, it is Mark’s ex—and I have to say it saddens me to see the author once again make a female lead both a harridan and unforgiving to boot. It is, I feel, a well-worn and unfair cliché to make a female character the bad guy in a novel—to give her so little compassion and make her so angry and unapproachable. Unfortunately it seems to be a staple in this particular series, and it makes me all the more disappointed to see it happen yet again. I am hopeful that the fourth novel will rectify this problem, for I feel it is a disservice to the skill this author has as a writer to continually fall back on the same tired trope that is seemingly rebirthed with a new character name in every story.
Out! is most certainly an amusing and thoughtful addition to the Shamwell Tales series, and doesn’t fail to make this reader wish once again that we could all live in the wacky village author JL Merrow writes so lovingly about.
You can buy Out! here: