Ever since Gone Girl became a runaway smash back in the Summer of 2012, dark, twisty thrillers that border on being horror have been all the rage, particularly with the words “girl”, “wife”, or “woman” in the title. It’s reached a point where it’s hard not to feel like that particular subgenre has possibly been done to death (pun intended), though I recently read somewhere that a trope isn’t really “done” until every community has had their go with it. So it is this year that seems to be happening, as many of the buzzier titles revolve around previously unseen perspectives within it, like P.J. Vernon’s Bath Haus, which puts a queer spin on things.
Oliver Park is living with his future-husband Nathan in Washington, D.C.’s wealthy Georgetown neighborhood. The two met when Oliver was beginning to try and get clean in his hometown in Indiana, with trauma surgeon Nathan whisking him off to D.C. to further keep his addiction under control. One night years later, while Nathan is away at a conference, Oliver succumbs to his baser urges and ventures out to the unimaginatively named bathhouse Haus to try and have a one-night stand. Unfortunately, the handsome, accented stranger he wanders off with turns out to be more dangerous than he had bargained for, and attempts to strangle him in their private room. Oliver escapes, with very visible bruising on his neck, and begins to wonder how he will explain his injuries to Nathan, and how he can report his attacker to the Police without alerting his fiancée.
Unsurprisingly, keeping such a massive lie going turns into an escalating series of additional bad decisions, with the sheer number of them perhaps being the book’s only real weak point (I mean, come on! Do the right thing at least once!). A friendly detective does her best to keep Nathan from finding out the truth, but as the attacker manages to track Oliver down and begin threatening him at home, even she has to issue an ultimatum. Even worse for Oliver, his drug addict ex from Indiana turns up for an unwelcome visit.
The plot gets moving pretty quickly, and once it does it’s hard to put the book down, despite how often it feels like just admitting the truth would resolve things. The author does give some reasoning as to why Oliver feels like he can’t do so, and it does work to assuage any irritation over his decision-making, but only just. Every time he interacts with his attacker, whether in person or over text message is suspenseful, and only becomes increasingly so as the book goes on. The seemingly duplicitous nature of nearly everyone around him further heightens the growing sense of panic, all leading up to a thrillingly twisty finale that doesn’t disappoint, even if it does break your heart just a little. ★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor