"Summer Sons" by Lee Mandelo is a creeping, dreadful tale that drips with humidity and the bitterness of lost chances. Andrew Blur is aptly named - a determinedly bland protagonist that shoves his emotions down and away in order to investigate the death of his best friend, Eddie - a death that was ruled a suicide. Andrew knows there's something suspicious about the "suicide" because Eddie's ghost said as much to him. Andrew's strange ability to communicate with the dead is more of a curse than a gift; cold, fetid shadows follow him through this claustrophobic tale as he navigates Eddie's friendships and academic community. This is a slow Southern Gothic tale - a little too slow, truthfully, as it takes a good 150 pages for the horror to really start kicking up. Andrew is an interesting protagonist, but so determined to NOT pursue the obvious threads that are kicking up around him that his inertia can be frustrating. That inertia does pick up about halfway through the novel, as "Summer Sons" begins to sink its teeth into the concepts of race, queerness, depression, and ancestral legacy. "Summer Sons" is horror in the visceral sense; there are no jump scares or wild action scenes here, at least not of the haunted house variety (there are a few car races, but those are largely testosterone-fueled bonding sessions). The horror in "Summer Sons" rides on your back, a cold, heavy presence that gets heavier with every step. It's the kind of book that had me by the throat every time I set it down and wondered if the pace was going to pick up soon. It whispered a refrain of Eddie's last text message to Andrew in the moments when I was not reading it: "Come home. I'm waiting." Great for Southern Gothic lovers, those who enjoy slower reads, and fans of LGBTQ+ in horror.
(Note on subject matter: some heavy violence)
—Whitney Sheppard, Snail Readers Circle
Lee Mandelo's debut Summer Sons is a sweltering, queer Southern Gothic that crosses Appalachian street racing with academic intrigue, all haunted by a hungry ghost.
Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom that hungers for him.
As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble.
And there is something awful lurking, waiting for those walls to fall.
About the Author
LEE MANDELO is a writer, critic, and occasional editor whose fields of interest include speculative and queer fiction, especially when the two coincide. They have been a past nominee for various awards including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; their work can be found in magazines such as Tor.com, Uncanny Magazine, Clarkesworld, and Nightmare. Aside from a brief stint overseas learning to speak Scouse, Lee has spent their life ranging across Kentucky, currently living in Lexington and pursuing a PhD at the University of Kentucky.
"Summer Sons is a southern summer in book form: hot and hungry and haunting. I couldn't put it down." —Alix E. Harrow
"Truly intense: you can smell the blood, the sweat, and the petrol. It absolutely rips." —Tamsyn Muir
"At once a raw, beautifully written gothic and an adrenaline-fueled debut, Summer Sons heralds a rich new voice in speculative fiction. Lee Mandelo is for real." —Andy Davidson
"Intense, sweaty, and literally haunting, Summer Sons is the Southern gothic tale of race cars and graduate school I didn't know I needed. Come for the slow-burn relationships, and stay for the scalding hot twists." —Annalee Newitz
"Full of angst and lingering spirits, Mandelo’s debut is like Tennessee molasses—dense, dark, slow-moving, and with a distinct Southern flavor." —Publishers Weekly
"Hooks you hard and fast from the start, then drags you kicking and screaming and loving it on a twisted backroad nightmare full of bad boys and badder revenants." —Sam J. Miller
"A gripping, gasoline-drenched story of ghosts, friendships, and things left unspoken." —Sarah Pinsker
"So visceral that you can feel the clammy sweat of fear and secrets, and it's full of the ugly rubbing edges of masculine frustration that's both the desire for violence, and desire itself." —Shelley Parker-Chan