Some memories are better off lost in the mist…
Eight months ago, British academic Paul Ansell lost his lover—and all the memories of their time together—in an accident at Iceland’s Gullfoss Falls. Returning to the misty island country to resume his study of the bloodthirsty Viking Egil Skallagrimsson is tough as he struggles to pull his life back together.
First, there’s his colleague, Mags, who treats him like glass, and summer student Alex, who peppers him with discomforting questions. Then there’s Icelandic jet-boat driver Viggo, a tattooed, modern-day Viking who won’t say much about how they know each other. Leaving Paul to wonder if their volcanic attraction is fuelled by a desire to make a fresh start, or desperation to forget the past.
As more fragments of his lost memories fall into place, Paul is unsure if he can trust himself, much less anyone around him. And he begins to suspect his accident was nothing of the kind.
Warning: Contains a modern-day Viking whose boat has V8 engines for oars, and a harsh land of hot springs and hotter passions that won’t forgive any false steps.
This blurb came from the author’s website.
I am sitting here sending a collective scowl to all of the people I know who enjoy reading m/m because they have failed in their pushing duties. Not one of them pushed J.L. Merrow on me and I am sorely disappointed in their lack of consideration. Fall hard is my first but not my last Merrow story. I picked this one up for two reasons. First, I had a vague memory of seeing Merrow’s name mentioned before in a positive context and second, I thought the blurb was rather intriguing. It mentioned Vikings, Iceland, amnesia, death under mysterious circumstances, and two men somehow linked to the forgotten past. I found this story intriguing, slightly creepy in places, and an enjoyable read overall.
Paul was lost. He was still recovering from some hideous injuries but had not regained about eight months of memory which included the events leading to his injuries. He was told that he and his lover fell off Gullfoss Falls and while Paul survived, Sven did not. But because of his lost memory he was not experiencing the grief or guilt that he thought he should. His return back to Iceland was as much for resuming his job and research as it was to try and regain his lost memory. Things didn’t exactly end up the way he expected.
I liked Paul and felt for him all at the same time. He had to deal with pitying looks from those who knew he lost his lover followed by speculative questions/looks because he wasn’t behaving as expected. People would also come up to him and start talking with a familiarity, which meant they had interacted before but Paul did not have a single reference point. Some things seemed like they were associated with his past but again without a reference he was left floundering. Paul’s inability to trust his brain meant that he was sometimes spooked by nothing and other times decided not to follow up on things that should have been questionable because he thought his brain was playing tricks on him. I am not really going to discuss the romance aspect other than to say that I enjoyed it because it is so closely linked to the secrets hidden in Paul’s mind about his past. I think Merrow did a great job interweaving it into the overall storyline.
The supporting cast was also interesting. Mags, his co-worker, wavered between playing mother/caretaker to friend to throwing him into situations with another man who appeared to be interested. She was also very reluctant to speak ill of the dead so while she had insight and history to share she was very careful about what she actually said. She seemed to care about Paul and wanted him to heal but at the same time she also liked the changes in his attitude. In a way, Mags represented the “normal” because she wanted her friend/co-worker back.
The two men certainly seemed to have more on their minds than just striking up or reestablishing a friendship/relationship with Paul. Alex posed a complication, half the time he appeared to be flirting or giving a hard come-on to Paul and the other half he seemed to be either messing with Paul’s head or maneuvering him into situations when the two of them were alone. For quite a while I thought Alex had something to do with the fall and was back to finish the job so every time he was alone with Paul I was concerned. I also didn’t like Alex because he seemed to ignore social niceties and continue to pressure Paul about spending time together even when Paul would make polite excuses. Viggo was another contradiction. He appeared to have a lot of familiarity with Paul, an almost intimate previous relationship but he remained relatively closed-lipped unless Paul questioned him directly. Even then his answers were as simple and non-revealing as possible but they in turn raised more questions in my mind.
I mentioned in the beginning that I found some aspects of Fall Hard a bit creepy. I lost about 24-48 hours of memory from a concussion and I know the sense of disconnect I felt afterwards so extrapolating that to cover all aspects of life for eight months and then going back to an environment and people I didn’t remember but remembered me was scary. I certainly had a lot of empathy for Paul and admired how he refused to stay in the safer areas of England. Watching Paul work his way through rebuilding his life complete with frustration, guilt, annoyance, suspicion, and some fear kept me captivated. I enjoyed the complex characters and the combination of vividness and starkness of the Iceland she described. I am hoping to find that same captivation when I explore Merrow’s backlist.
I give Fall Hard a B+/A-