Review: Helpless by M J Pearson

In London during the gross indecency trial of Oscar Wilde, Douglas Shrove finds himself still haunted by memories of his dead lover while skirting violence, blackmail and the affections of two men.

There are two who seek you out

That is what the gypsy told Douglas Shrove a few months after the death of his lover. And the gypsy was right. Two men were vying for his affections.

Mark Goldcrest: an aristocrat like himself; a golden Adonis, cool and discreet.

Warren Scott: a shabbily-dressed denizen of a Bohemian world that Douglas can’t begin to understand.

One is what he seems, and one is not, and one is dangerous.

But which is which? Both men are attractive and attracted to him…but only one has a dangerous secret.

One is what he seems, and one is not, and one is dangerous.

One of Douglas Shrove’s admirers could be his salvation—if the other doesn’t destroy him first.

Review by Erastes

PLEASE do not be put off this book by the cover. If you’ve looked at it and thought “oh no, BDSM/torture isn’t my cup of tea” then please read this review and perhaps decide to read it anyway. Because frankly I don’t know what Seventh Window was thinking with this cover.  It in NO WAY represents the book. The Snidely Whiplash character doesn’t exist in the book, there’s no half naked men (bizarrely wearing jeans) no one gets tied to a chair and there’s a distinct lack of face fungus.  I appreciate that the artist has some talent, but it almost feels like the cover was created for another book and they didn’t want to waste it. Frankly, I consider it misrepresentation!

The mark of this site for the book won’t reflect the cover at all, that wouldn’t be fair, but I wanted to get that out of the way straight away, to encourage you to look beyond it and give this great little book a go.

I have to say, I really really enjoyed this book.  We are introduced to our main protagonist, Douglas, straight away and we find he’s reeling from the death of his lover who died a few months previously. It’s spring, and the restlessness that often accompanies that season, seeps into Douglas’ consciousness and before he knows it, he’s going outside and walking about for the first time in ages. You really feel the grief in Douglas’ very bones, he’s walking around half dead himself, but he’s coming round, slowly.

Then, as often happens, two things happen to him in short succession. He goes into a bookshop and is subtly chatted up by the owner, a gorgeous aristocratic man, and after that he feels sufficiently bouyed up that he doesn’t really want to go home and instead spends some time in the National Gallery where he meets a scruffy artist who’s really not his type, but who intrigues him and whose art he’s drawn to.  He finds that the artist knew Henry (Douglas’ dead lover) and that gives them a common ground to discuss. The blond hunk from the bookshop asks Douglas around for dinner, and the artist gives Douglas his address, saying he has some sketches of Henry he might like. Men–just like buses. Nothing for months, then two come at once.

As you can tell from the blurb, this is the main theme of the book – two men to choose from. It’s all about appearances and trust. Who is right for him. Who seems right and who is his type. This is handled cleverly by introducing real doubt about both men, and layering mystery on mystery. Personally I would have liked to have seen this stretched even further than it was–making me truly unsure about either man–for me as it stood it was rather too obvious, and I never really doubted who was “good” and who wasn’t.  But that’s possibly because I love being led by the nose down the wrong path, and I’m sure that 99% of readers will find the device quite satisfactory.

I was a little put off by the scene setting at the beginning. There’s a rather clumsy piece of As You Know, Bob, dialogue between Mark (the bookshop owner) and Douglas. I can understand why it was there, to establish that the Wilde indecency trial is on the horizon, but the way they discussed it, it was so obvious that it was there simply to tell the audience where and when we were–and it jarred me. It could easily have been done in Douglas’ point of view, but once we are past that scene, there’s no more of this, the dialogue is solid – and I was swept away into the narrative.

There’s much to like about the book: The characters are vibrant and believable, with surprises on just about every page. There’s excellent detail–not too much–for locations and houses. Pearson doesn’t prettify London in the late 1900’s–sights, sounds, smells are described well. And overall it’s a nice commentary on class, servant roles, and more importantly, the assumptions that people make about other people based on appearance, titles, family, obvious wealth and their houses.

The male/male romance that blossoms does so extremely well. I was dreading that we’d go from Douglas being so broken hearted to leaping into bed with all and sundry but it doesn’t work like that, and the book takes its time, and in that respect, the grief is well represented. Don’t buy this book looking for scorching sex scenes, because all of the sex takes place either behind a firmly closed door, or is of the dot dot dot variety. However, this doesn’t detract from what is a delightful love affair, and a tightly plotted mystery which I’m sure will be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up, as long as they can get past Old Snidely on the cover.

Available in print and ebook

Author’s website

Amazon UK Amazon USA

3 Responses

  1. I agree, this was a great book and I enjoyed it very much. The cover was a major WTF, though, and I think the publisher owes the author an apology for it. :/


  2. It’s such a shame. Pearson will be an automatic buy for many people who enjoyed her previous novels, but the cover would definitely put many people off if they didn’t know of her writing. I truly hope that the good reviews it’s getting will help negate that.

  3. I agree. It’s a total misrepresentation of the book. What were they thinking? It kind of affected my reading too because I kept wondering how what I was reading was going to twist into what was on the cover. But it never happened – thank goodness.

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