Time should never be spent writing plot summaries, but if you want some sort of idea of what the story is about, then think back to Nathan Hoobler's "The Pact" or "Call me if you Care" or McCusker's own "The Silver Cord" and "In Memoriam". Combine elements of these stories and you have a ballpark idea of what happens in "The Mill House". Each of those stories deal with characters who must piece together fragmented histories in order to solve a mystery in the present. More importantly, each teach about the power of grace and the redemption Christ provides despite our past mistakes.
"The Mill House" is Paul McCusker at his best. This is perhaps the most emotionally heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, story he's written so far. It is a romance novel, but it is not your light, feel-good chick-flick or Harlequin Romance. The novel is sometimes distressing, and some readers may cry; though, luckily, McCusker injects his signature sense of humor and lightheartedness. And while "The Mill House" may cause some to reflect on numerous important themes from faith to forgiveness, for others, it may simply create a desire to run off and marry a British girl.
More than a love story, "The Mill House" takes its characters seriously and strays, more often than not, from convention and clichés. The characters are all very well developed because McCusker takes time to explore their relationships with each another; Nicholas and Lainey, the novel's two main figures, have charming and likable personalities, but McCusker thankfully refrains from making either too perfect or one-dimensional. They feel like real people with real everyday worries and concerns.
Father Gilbert did too—say what? Yes, to my surprise, Father Gilbert is in "The Mill House". In a nice change from the usual, our favorite Anglican priest isn't chasing ghosts and casting out demons, but pops in and out of the story to provide help to Nicholas and Lainey. I think Focus on the Family Radio Theater should one-day dramatize "The Mill House", not only because I enjoyed the story, but also so that we can have an excuse to hear from good ol' Father Gilbert again. Honestly, I miss that guy.
Having lived and studied in Oxford for several months, I appreciated how very true, and humorous, McCusker's comments of British society were:
"[The British] care about the weather, the commute to work, how long until the next holiday, going to the pub, sports, and gardening."Unfortunately, the main mystery eventually takes a backseat so that the novel can overindulge in these references, rolling them out on a conveyor belt for several pages in a row, and thereby losing some momentum. For the longest time, I was the nodding emphatically to the comparisons made between American and British societies, but then I just wanted the story get on with answering my questions. Really, this is my only problem with the book. Other than that, the descriptions of the scenery and society within England are vividly described and well-researched.
Unlike some self-proclaimed Christian authors, McCusker manages to smoothly intertwine the spiritual message and story. The Christian themes never feel forced. This isn't to say the Christian message isn't blatant—it certainly is; the characters wrestle with issues of faith, attempting to figure out God's will in a world where people often "mess up" and seemingly diverge from the "right path". Unlike "TSI", the plot doesn't come to a halt for the characters to pause and think about God. Rather, God is as present—and relevant—as any of the main characters are. The questions the characters have about God are so real and well developed that I deeply cared to know the answers, wondering, as they did, how God was working in the midst of this ordeal.
Several months ago, I reviewed two of McCusker's most recent works: "TSI: The Gabon Virus" and "TSI: The Influenza Bomb". Although I thought both were entertaining and worth the read, I was not overly ecstatic about either. The "The Mill House", a different sort of novel, is often suspenseful, beautifully detailed, and authentically Christian. You will walk away from this brisk, light read feeling emotionally heavier and, hopefully, fulfilled.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ (out of 5)
Check out Paul McCusker's website: http://www.paulmccusker.com/index.html to order a copy for yourself and to learn about his other works. Have you read "The Mill House"? If so, what did you think?