When Oliver Park visits a gay bathhouse in search of an anonymous hookup, he’s putting a lot at risk: his comfortable relationship with Nathan, his upper middle-class life, even his hard-won sobriety. The encounter takes a violent turn that he’s lucky to survive, but his bruises demand an explanation. While Nathan worries about Oliver’s safety, Oliver equivocates and dodges. Bath Haus starts out as a cat-and-mouse thriller, but by the end you’ll realize that everyone is both cat and mouse. You’ll also be a breathless wreck, because this book is not fooling around.
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Author P.J. Vernon’s (When You Find Me) concoction moves with can’t-put-it-down quickness, but you may find yourself lingering over it nonetheless. The writing is economical when it needs to be, but descriptions of the couple’s swanky Georgetown home are full of visual pops. Nathan’s mother serves cutting lines with stiletto precision; she’s a villain to hate while secretly wishing you were her. (Just me? I’ll own it.) Sharp observations about addiction, relationship stagnation and the homogeneity of gay club culture fill in the story’s world while never slowing it down.
Shifts in points of view let readers see that there’s more at play than Oliver’s assault and the possibility that he’s being stalked. Nathan pays for both of their phones and has access to the passcodes. He clearly knows more than he’s letting on. Things come to a head in a finale that initially feels like a collision between The Boys in the Band and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but quickly spirals into genuine nail-biting terror.
Don’t miss Bath Haus. It’s intricate, speedy and scary.