Review: Midnight Dude by Various

18 wonderful stories by 18 talented authors. A cornucopia of gay themed short fiction and a showcase of the talent of the authors at AwesomeDude. Most of these stories were written specially for this anthology, whilst just a few are favorites from the site. There is something for everyone: from fantasy and stark realism, to War stories and sports, humor and pathos, angst and passion. (the review refers only to the two historical short stories within the anthology)

Review by Jean Cox
“Midnight Dude: Selected Readings” is an anthology of stories, two of which are historical.

“Some Enchanted Evening” by Tragic Rabbit: A love story to die for. Set in a decaying country house this intense and atmospheric story will pull the reader into a world of the liminal.

“A Flower In France” by Bruin Fisher: War’s brutality and how that can touch those who experience it is graphically illustrated in this moving story.

I’d read Bruin Fisher’s contribution to “I Do Two” and enjoyed it greatly, so was looking forward to this one. “A Flower in France” tells the story of an English Tommy who finds an unexpected sympathy for and empathy with one of the enemy, against the backdrop of WWI trench warfare.

On the positive side it illustrates the author’s variety; the light hearted tone of “Work Experience” is here replaced by serious notes for a serious subject. The hero, Godfrey, is complex and interesting—I wanted to find out a lot more about him—and his wonderful pragmatism shines through. He’s typical of the wartime generation who just got on with things without grumbling. There are scenes of great power and great tenderness in this tale and some particularly powerful images.

On the negative side, the story could have been three times as long; the development, especially of the post war scenes, felt rushed. I kept thinking there was a novella length (at least) story to be told, with the WWI part as the prelude.

Bruin Fisher can write very well—I’d like to see him really develop a longer story.

“Some Enchanted Evening” is set in both early and mid twentieth century America. The author, Tragic Rabbit, has an elegantly descriptive style; the prose was absolutely breathtaking at times, which is in keeping with a story that feels more like a fairy tale than the average gay historical short. The ghostly aspect of the second half of the tale adds to the air of mystery.

Christian’s slow awakening to his feelings in 1910 is contrasted with that of Thomas in 1962, observed by Christian’s spirit. The interaction between ghost and human, which could risk appearing absurd, is well depicted, as is (generally) the contrast between the two eras and the similarity of the young men’s experience.

This is such an unusual story I can forgive the overabundance of contemporary references (brand names, chart songs) for the 1962 segment, which contrasts with a lack of the same sort of references for the earlier segment. However, like “A Flower in France”, “Some Enchanted Evening” rushes to its conclusion; the ending would have been better had it been at the same pace as the rest of the story.

Overall, I came away with the feeling that both of these would have benefitted from a harder copy edit, which could have transformed a pair of good stories into excellent ones.

The issue with both stories’ endings might have pulled the final star rating down, but the overall quality of the writing (and the fact the anthology contains at least one non-historical story which alone would justify reading the book) deserves four stars.

Awesome Dude Website

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Review: Algerian Nights by Graeme Roland

In 1900, bored, wealthy Bostonian Perceval Fain finds himself in the French colony of Algeria, amusing himself with a number of local men, including members of the French military. Falling under the spell of his exotic desert surroundings, unfulfilled by his hedonistic lifestyle, Perceval meets an impoverished English artist, Preston.

At first the two men dislike each other and seem to have nothing in common. Almost against their wills, though, an attraction develops between them, fulfilling an enigmatic prophecy.

Review by Erastes

Well, going by the cover I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this–the cover won’t affect the score of the book, but shoving two headless six-packs over a desert doesn’t cut it these days–perhaps four years ago it might, but I think readers demand more, even for an ebook. The cover also doesn’t make it clear that it’s a historical, and may even put off the sort of reader who would actually really like this book, as it screams “gay porn” and not much else.

And that would be a shame, because this is quite a good historical romp. I use the word romp advisedy, because there’s a lot of sex in it, although I’d probably say that it’s not gratuitious, each sex scene does add something to the plot and characterisation, even if it’s only what a character thinks at the end of it.

I have to say that Fain was a fascinating character. A Dorian Gray without a portrait, a man who has decided to do pretty much exactly what he likes and has the money and prestige to back it up and to protect himself from the punishment the law may chuck at him. I liked particularly that he didn’t get away with this scot-free, that he was not received by polite society and that he was considered decadent and immoral and many other things by the American upper-classes. Think James’s Washington Square, then insert a slightly reined in Dorian Gray.

He’s accompanied everywhere by his lovely bit of rough, his valet, confidente and sometime bed-warmer Tommy who is himself a great character and if the author were to write any more about either of these I would happily read it. Tommy and Perceval (shortened to Perce, which annoyed me throughout, as Perce very much (for an English person) smacks of working class–the cat in “This Happy Breed” was called Perce) love each other and at first I thought that was the focus but their love, although real, is more friends with benefits, and the romance element came from elsewhere.

That pretty much sums Perce up, for most of the book. He’s loose-living, carefree and although he likes everyone he goes to bed with, or he wouldn’t go to bed with them, he’s never really formed a lasting attachment. He doens’t think that he feels the lack of this. He’s of the opinion that men aren’t naturally monogamous with other men and nothing that happens in the book convinces him otherwise, even at the end.

I’m in two minds about the level of OK Homo in the book. Granted that Perce makes sure that doors are locked and he usually has his trysts in places where he won’t be discovered, but there are several times when people are talking in public about male nudity, male attraction and male/male sex–for example Tommy and the painter Preston at the breakfast table. The author has been clever to set it in an out of the way town in Algeria, and that part of Africa was a magnet for gay men for decades because of the liberal attitude, but it’s all a bit TOO liberal, and male sex available just about everywhere. This, and the lack of any women characters, makes a little over-weighted in the OK Homo department.

It also didn’t seem to know exactly what it wanted to be. Half of the book was happy to be a good old sexual romp, with Perce leaping from partner to partners to orgy with gay abandon and the sex pretty well graphically described. This was fine, because that’s what I was expecting, something on the sexual level of The Back Passage (althugh without the tongue in cheek humour). But half way through the sex scenes were sketchily described along the lines of “they undressed and when they had both orgasmed…” which left me feeling a little cheated as I had thought this was supposed to be more of a one-handed read all the way through.

Everyone’s nice too. With his activities and lusts there needed to be some conflict, and it shows how much I enjoyed the story that I didn’t realise there wasn’t any conflict at all until after I had finished it. Everything comes easy to Perce, and with his looks and money that’s not particularly surprising, but it’s all too easy. Every man falls into bed with him without even being heterosexual, his gaydar is never off, everyone’s his friend, his servants are loyal and nothing bad happens.

However, considering that I didn’t even notice this until after I’d finished and had time to mull it over, I’m not going to mark it down much for that.

I think it could have done with a tougher editor as there are times when the passive voice is used pretty much exclusively “there was a and there was this and there was and it was and he was” etc etc and there are moments of head-hopping although they aren’t rife.

But all in all, a good edition to anyone’s library, and I encourage you to give this a go.

Amazon UK       Amazon USA    available in print and ebook

 

Review: House of Mirrors by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon

Driven from his family when his sexuality is exposed, Jonah discovers drama, passion, and intrigue in a traveling carnival–and in the enigmatic owner, Rafe Grimstone. The preacher’s son and the lord who’s rejected his former life in England feel the heat of attraction from the moment they meet. Open-hearted Jonah is willing to risk hellfire and damnation for brief moments of pleasure with Rafe, but the older man is frozen in a past he can’t escape no matter how far he runs.

As Rafe struggles to choose between responsibilities of his present and his past, mysterious accidents assail the close-knit community of the carnival. Will the perpetrator be revealed before the traveling show is ruined, and will Rafe finally reveal his true self to Jonah or continue to mask his identity like the changing images in a house of mirrors?

Review by Erastes

I have thoroughly enjoy past forays by this talented team of writers and I jumped into this headlong, seduced by their past skill and the fact that I am a big sucker for circus stories.

I wasn’t disappointed. I liked the length–around 160 pages. It doesn’t rush into things and events are given time to mature, characters given space to develop. Secondly it takes the carny/circus theme and really runs with it. Rafe’s outfit isn’t a great big one like ones shown on Hollywood films, it’s a real “dog and pony show”–the “headline” act being just that, a dog and pony turn, there’s a magician, a strong man, a knife throwing act which perform in the show. In addition to that there’s the “freak show” which is hardly that at all. Over the past little while, they’ve lost their dwarf, and although he hasn’t told the Carny “family”, Rafe knows the show is losing money.

It’s a sad little outfit, to be honest which travels around Ohio, part of Indiana, and Kentucky. Playing to people who’s lives are so bleak and hopeless and miserable that even a poor little show with nothing much more than a couple of tents seems like something miraculous. There’s a scene at a funeral where this is so beautifully described you can see the por fabric of the people’s clothes, feel every bone in their starving horse’s ribs–people who are awed by the simplest of things, and grateful for it.

It’s this “Grapes of Wrath” level of detail that I loved most about the book; the main two characters, Jonah and Rafe are interesting, but they didn’t catch me on fire, and the romance was pretty predictable. However it’s solidly done, and no one will be disappointed by the set up and completion of the love story.  However, the other characters in the book were the genius touch. Mindy, the sour-tongued and loyal daughter of the previous owner, Sam the giant with health problems, the nebulous Parinsky, and Jamie the pretty woman with a big crush–and many others. None of them are skimped in favour of the main romance, and when something happens to one of them I freely admit I found myself crying without even realising it.

There’s a nice mini-mystery thread that runs through, and even with the limited pool of suspects the clues led me to the wrong suspect–and that pleases me.

What I didn’t like was (to me) a rather unsatisfactory ending. It seemed to go on for too long, as if desperate to assure the reader as to what would happen next and how. I found it unnecessary and bulky. I can understand the reasons why all the ends had to be tied up but after such deft and subtle storytelling it felt like the publisher had said “You can’t end it there, please let’s see what happens afterwards.”

But for all that, I find this a really well written book. Dee and Devon go from strength to strength and the maturity of much of the writing in this book is simply wonderful.  I have one plea. If Loose I-D don’t own the print rights to your books, girls, then please offer them to a print publisher because they will be keepers for many, me included.

Highly recommended.

Bonnie Dee’s website   Summer Devon’s website

Buy at Loose I-D

Review: Lessons In Trust by Charlie Cochrane

He thought he knew who he was. Now he’s a stranger to himself.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 7

When Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith witness the suspicious death of a young man at the White City exhibition in London, they’re keen to investigate—especially after the cause of death proves to be murder. But police Inspector Redknapp refuses to let them help, even after they stumble onto clues to the dead man’s identity.

Review by Erastes

As you will know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, or any other m/m review site, The Cambridge Fellows series starring Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart has been a seven book series published by Samhain. This is the last in this set of books from Samhain. I won’t say “this is the last ever appearance from the boys” because I know that Charlie Cochrane is hoping to write at least one more, but that’s not in her contract for the seven books she’s done with them so far.

The series has been almost uniformly excellent—I’ve asked different people to review the books as they were released, to try and instil some fairness, but that didn’t make any difference, quality is quality and The Cambridge Fellow Series has been loved by one and all.

So it will be no surprise to you to hear that Lessons In Trust doesn’t waver one iota in that regard.

The story kicks off with the boys on vacation, staying with the Stewarts.  It’s 1908 and The White City ( a hundred acre site holding the Franco-British Exhibition) has just opened, and the boys are enjoying it every day. And it’s there that the murder mystery begins.

One gets used to the fact that, when a detective (or a couple of them in this case) are on the loose anywhere at all, wherever they go, they are bound to discover a murder. You would be a very stupid person to invite Hercule Poirot to your dinner party, and if I’d seen him entering a train or plane or boat I was on, I’d ask to change my passage to another day.  What Cochrane does is play with that that trope sufficiently to make a nice difference. When they do see the murder, they don’t realise that it is one, and rather than being encouraged to help with the enquiry, they are positively ordered away from it but a wonderful minor character, a policeman who insults the amateur detectives at every available opportunity.

Despite the novella length of this book, Cochrane packs a lot in. Not only do the doughty pair have the challenge of a baffling murder, but one of them has a crisis in his personal life which causes a real rift between the two of them.  I think it was this section that was the only part of the book I didn’t really get. At this point of their relationship, when they’d been through so much–I didn’t understand Orlando’s actions at all. However, it is written entirely in character, so it didn’t jar me – I wasn’t sitting there thinking “he wouldn’t have done that,” – rather “I thought you loved him more.”

As usual, the plot is nicely obscure for the fan of the mystery genre and as usual, there are some wonderful character portraits within the book, and people who love Jonty and Orlando’s gentle and sweet interractions won’t be disappointed.

I can’t mark this with any less than five stars, the weight of the series behind it, and the unfailing quality of the writing, the characterisation and the plotting won’t let me.

Buy at Samhain

Review: Lessons in Seduction by Charlie Cochrane

This time, one touch could destroy everything…

The suspected murder of the king’s ex-mistress is Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart’s most prestigious case yet. And the most challenging, since clues are as hard to come by as the killer’s possible motive.

At the hotel where the body was found, Orlando goes undercover as a professional dancing partner while Jonty checks in as a guest. It helps the investigation, but it also means limiting their communication to glances across the dance floor. It’s sheer agony.

A series of anonymous letters warns the sleuths they’ll be sorry if they don’t drop the investigation. When another murder follows, Jonty is convinced their involvement might have caused the victim’s death. Yet they can’t stop, for this second killing brings to light a wealth of hidden secrets.

For Orlando, the letters pose a more personal threat. He worries that someone will blow his cover and discover their own deepest secret… The intimate relationship he enjoys with Jonty could not only get them thrown out of Cambridge, but arrested for indecency.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Lessons in Seduction is the sixth entry in the Cambridge Fellows series, and for me, it was the least satisfying, to date. That’s not to say it was a bad book—it wasn’t—and certainly fans of the series will want to add this to their collection. If you are new to the series, I would recommend starting with the first book, Lessons in Love and working your way through the prior five (Love, Desire, Discovery, Power and Temptation) before tackling this one. Although they can be read as standalones, I think there is enough character development between the lead protagonists, Jonathan Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith, that the series is more enjoyable read in order.

So, for this book. As noted above, a murder has occurred at the Regal Hotel. Jonty and Orlando, because of their growing renown as amateur sleuths, are asked to help with the investigation. Jonty’s father, Richard Stewart, also gets involved. Jonty and Richard are able to be themselves, but Orlando must go undercover as Oliver Carberry, posing as a dancing instructor and regular “fourth for bridge.”

Because Jonty and Orlando are forced to be apart for much of the story, the murder mystery takes center stage and that, for me, was one of the biggest problems of the book. One of the things that has really attracted me to this series is the interaction between Jonty and Orlando and because of their separation, much of that was absent. They few times they did manage to get together, they were so desperate for each other, they didn’t have as much of their usual funny banter. Jonty tried to poke fun at himself and their situation in one scene by pretending to be a caveman, but the humor felt forced and didn’t work—for me at least.

The murder investigation seemed overly complicated. Because they were at a hotel, there were dozens of guests who were all potential suspects and I’ll be honest, by about the halfway point, I had given up keeping them straight. Lady This and Sir That and ladies’ maids and sons and jilted lovers all paraded across the pages. Worse, this was a fairly cerebral investigation, in which clues were gathered during breakfast, lunch and dinner; while people were dancing; while people were playing golf; while people were playing cards; and once in a while, when folks took a stroll on the beach. After many repetitious scenes of characters chatting over tea, the entire narrative started to wear thin for me. Jonty and his father kept receiving notes warning them off the case, but I never really felt that their lives were truly in danger. If there could have been at least one late night chase across the golf course, or a few shots ringing out in the dark, it would have livened up things considerably.

That said, the writing is classic Cochrane, with funny little turns of phrase and wonderful descriptions of the various people, their clothes, and the locale. For her fans, this alone will be enough to draw them in and keep them reading and most likely ignore the problems I had with the story.

I think writing a series of books and keeping them fresh and interesting is a formidable challenge for any author. Cochrane set a very high standard for herself with the first five books, and I want to make it clear that this one, even though she’s fallen off the mark a little bit, in my opinion, is still very good. I am looking forward to seeing how she wraps this up in book seven, Lessons in Trust. I feel like the series is working itself to its natural conclusion and I look forward to reading the last installment.

Samhain Publishing Buy from All Romance Buy from Amazon (Kindle)

Review: Lovers’ Knot by Donald Hardy

Cornwall, 1906

After inheriting Trevaglan Farm from a distant relative, Jonathan Williams returns to the estate to take possession, with his best friend, Alayne, by his side. He’d only been to Trevaglan once before, fourteen years earlier when he’d been sent there after a family scandal and his mother’s death. But that was a different time; he’s a different person now, determined to put that experience out of his mind and his heart….

That summer, he’d been a lost and lonely young man. Healing came slowly; the hot summer days were filled with sunshine, the nearby ocean, and a new friend, Nat. Jonathan and the farmhand had quickly grown close, Jonathan needing comfort in the wake of his grief, and Nat basking in a peace and love he had never known could exist.

But that was also a summer of rumors and strange happenings in the surrounding countryside, of romantic triangles and wronged lovers. Tempers would flare like summer lightning, and fade just as quickly. By the summer’s end, one young man was dead, and another haunted for life.

Now Jonathan is determined to start anew. Until he starts seeing the ghost of his former friend everywhere he looks. Until mementos of that summer idyll reappear. Until Alayne’s life is in danger. Until the town’s resident witch tells Jonathan that ghosts are real. And this one is tied to Jonathan unto death…

Review by Hayden Thorne

This is going to be an unusual way of opening a review, and I might be getting some flack for it, but there’s a point to this.

To begin, I want to point out what I thought to be problematic things about Lovers’ Knot (bear with me, please). The romantic conflict (“I love him. I want to tell him. I don’t want to lose his friendship.”) happens to be my least favorite M/M source of angst. I’ve read so many stories that unfold along these lines, and majority of them simply fail in making me sympathize with the heroes, for all their incessant pining. Secondly, some of the dialogue between Jonathan and Alayne is somewhat clunky and awkward. The language isn’t stilted, no, but there’s a certain self-consciousness in the way the exchanges happen that gives them a false feeling. Ironically, it usually happens whenever they banter, and one would think that they’ve never really lived together in London for almost a decade. And thirdly, I find the novel’s villain to be – well – too convenient. The motive, especially, while understandable, doesn’t convince as much because of her single-mindedness in getting what she wants, which limits her characterization to an archetype: the lover scorned, with hardly any room for development.

Now that I’ve laid out the weaker points of this book, I can move on to the next bit.

I LOVE THIS NOVEL. Yes, I latched on to those issues pretty early on in the book, and they came back here and there in the course of reading, but by the time I finished, none of them mattered. None.

For all the heroes’ pining, they never wallow in it. They struggle internally, they fight against themselves and common sense, but on the whole, they’re also very pragmatic men. They mull over things and then decide on a course of action. We’re never treated to page after page of tedious “woe is me” moments. The novel’s villain, though an archetype, manages to rouse some sympathy in the end, given the nature of her punishment and the stupidity that took her to that point. In fact, nearly all of the principal players do some incredibly stupid things, but given the nature of their relationships as well as their relationship with the land, it’s not a surprise. In fact, they’re expected to be ruled largely by passion. The occasional awkward dialogue gets balanced by wonderfully detailed scene descriptions and a haunting (no pun intended), dreamy atmosphere.

Lovers’ Knot has a pretty simple storyline, both past and present. What Donald Hardy does, though, is flesh out his story in such a way as to make it much more complex and multi-layered. It’s a classic romantic tragedy, where the ending leaves you both happy for the lovers and completely heartbroken over the past and maybe even wondering “what if?” What if Nat survived? What if so-and-so gave up and moved on? How would the present look? There are so many gray areas that shape both the story and the characters (save for Alayne, who’s largely in the background and is more of an innocent bystander caught up in some pretty creepy happenings), and above all, the story left me thinking about connections, allegories, and so on, which is something I couldn’t help but do because of the book’s narrative structure.

The story unfolds with Jonathan’s past alternating with his present. Normally I’m not fond of this approach because it requires a pretty deft handling of two disparate and yet parallel (or cause and effect) storylines, and the author has to be careful in making sure that the significance of these flashbacks becomes evident as the present story unfolds. We get exactly that in Lovers’ Knot. Along with the juxtaposition of youth and innocence with maturity and world-weariness, we’re also treated to some wonderful contrast studies that add to the emotional resonance of Jonathan’s relationships with Nat and Alayne.

The setting is Cornwall, very rural, and steeped in history. Jonathan and Nat’s blossoming love affair is defined by rugged Nature, superstition, village rites, the sea, and eternity. The two consummate their love all over the place, hiding constantly, yet completely vulnerable and exposed. Their “wedding rite” is primitive yet a truer connection of souls. Their minister (that is, if they were to recruit one)? The village witch.

For the present, Jonathan and Alayne’s relationship is defined by silence, lies, obfuscation. They’re protected against Nature by man-made structures, separated from each other by physical walls, stairways, and social convention. The vicar and his wife come to visit, and while Mrs. Deane shows some liberal leanings, she remains held back and kept in her place by – yes – social convention. There’s certainly much to be said about age and wisdom, but at what price? Emotional asphyxiation? The sharp contrast of Jonathan’s present with his past forces you to think about what could’ve been.

The gray areas encompass the characters as well. There are a number of them, and they bring different things to the story in different ways, but save for maybe a handful, none of them’s a saint. Through their strengths and especially their frailties, they add so many human dimensions to an otherwise simple story. I find Penhyrddin a very fascinating character, and his mystique remains even after the climax of Jonathan’s past. It’s almost fitting, really, that he’s almost a living ghost, just hovering in the background, seeing as how Lovers’ Knot is both a romance as well as a classic ghost story.

What I’ve always loved about ghost stories is that, compared to monsters, for instance, these stories tend to be very psychological. Was the specter a figment of the imagination? Why would it appear to A and not B? What relationship is there between the dead and the living? Lovers’ Knot doesn’t take the easy way out in explaining the hauntings. If anything, the cause happens to be one of the more heart-rending elements in the novel, and its resolution doesn’t make it easier to take. M.R. James is also invoked, which makes me a very giddy James fangirl.

The setting and historical details are very, very well-done. On the whole, the novel has a certain dreamy, lethargic quality to it – becauase of the story’s pace (and I really love it when authors take their time) as well as the attention that Hardy gives to practically every moment. You’ll feel as though you really are in rural England, exposed to the elements, to history, tradition, and the supernatural. You can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell practically everything. His focus on the poor and the uneducated is much, much appreciated. Historical fiction oftentimes being narrowed to the upper-class and aristocracy, I’m always dying to read a book about the lower-class and the rural poor. I find their lives so diverse and so rich, and I think that they have much more to say to us about a country’s history than their wealthier counterparts. Hardy’s novel does exactly that. In fact, I’d go further and say that his approach brings to mind another Hardy – Thomas Hardy – including the elegiac undercurrents and vanishing traditions.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been moved and (no pun intended) haunted in such a way by a story I’ve read. The experience is wonderful and gratifying, and I certainly hope to see more books from this author.

Buy the book:   Amazon UK Amazon USA


Review: Lessons in Temptation by Charlie Cochrane

He thinks he has everything. Until someone tries to steal it.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 5

For friends and lovers Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart, a visit to Bath starts out full of promise. While Orlando assesses the value of some old manuscripts, Jonty plans to finish his book of sonnets. Nothing exciting…until they are asked to investigate the mysterious death of a prostitute.

Then Orlando discovers that the famous curse of Macbeth extends far beyond the stage. It’s bad enough that Jonty gets drawn into a local theatre’s rehearsals of the play. The producer is none other than Jimmy Harding, a friend from Jonty’s university days who clearly finds his old pal irresistible. Worse, Jimmy makes sure Orlando knows it, posing the greatest threat so far to their happiness.

With Jonty involved in the play, Orlando must do his sleuthing alone. Meanwhile, Jonty finds himself sorely tempted by Jimmy’s undeniable allure. Even if Orlando solves the murder, his only reward could be burying his and Jonty’s love in an early grave…

Review by Erastes

I think I’m going to have to either go round to Charlie Cochrane’s house and stop her from writing anything else, or stop reviewing her books on the site because it’s becoming embarrassing as to how much we all like them.  I even get different reviewers to review them, but it makes no difference.  We all love ’em, and that’s no exception with this book.

First of all, let me advise you that, as the blurb hints, these books are part of a series.  (I’ve even made a category now, to make them easier to find.) However, they are so skilfully written that they can easily be read as a standalone, and Cochrane manages this (somehow) without any infodumping and pages of “this is what happened in previous books.”  There is enough information, woven in with a deft hand, to tell you who these guys are, what they do, a touch of their previous adventures and that’s it.  And that’s excellent, because they are only 100 pages or so, so the last thing you need is 20 pages of info thrown at you.

That being said, despite the fact that they can be read as standalones, you’ll be depriving yourself if you read them out of turn, or only read one in the series.  There’s an over-reaching arc to the series, and with a romance, that’s a difficult thing to achieve.  After the happy ending of the first book you’d think that there would be nothing else to tell about the characters. Well, you’d be wrong. So wrong.

Cochrane must have had the same grandmother as mine, (“keep some mystery, dear!”) or be related to Gypsy Rose Lee or something because she knows just how to string her readers along, and each book–like the best burlesque dancer–reveals a little more about these characters, a little more of their backstory–sometimes to their own detriment.  What’s great about Jonty and Orlando is that, despite being deliciously affectionate with each other and really and truly soul-mates, something you never doubt–they are both rather flawed young men.  Part of this comes from their pasts, both have a little darkness they are fighting with, and part of this comes from the necessary unworldliness (Orlando more so than Jonty, but all academics have a particular oddness) that living in a secluded community like a Cambridge College will bring.

The books could easily be a mish mash of schmoop and sentiment, as the men are delightfully sweet with each other (when all is going well and they are in private) but there’s always a tinge of that dark hiding behind them.  Orlando is racked with guilt that he hasn’t been able to help Jonty deal with the terrors of his school years, and Jonty’s incandescent temper often threatens the subtle thread between them. And they never let their guard down, always aware of what discovery of their love would mean.

Ok – so on with this book specifically.  Straight away we are led into Jonty and Orlando’s world. This time they are working away on location in Bath. What I love about Cochrane’s work is that she uses locations that she knows and loves. Places she’s been regularly–like Jersey in Lessons in Desire–and can describe in all weathers and moods.   Bath is a Regency staple, of course, but it was nice to see it 100 years later, and see the differences.

As the title implies, there’s temptation on the menu in the form of the deliciously handsome bundle of gorgeousness, Jimmy Harding.  An American who has an earlier friendship with Jonty.  Orlando hates him at first sight, which causes friction, but then Jimmy makes it more than clear to Orlando that he’s going to make a direct play for Jonty and the sparks begin to fly.  You don’t come to the Cambridge Fellow’s books for the sex, by the way, the love scenes are veiled and shrouded in imagery, but none the less emotive for that.  The themes of love vs sex and loyalty vs temptation are well explored too; there were times I wanted to kill Jonty, I have to say.

This alone would be more than enough plot for most people, particularly in a novella of this size, but Cochrane isn’t that complacent.  Her guys are detectives and so not only do they have to cope with the danger of Jimmy Harding, but to solve the 25 year old murder of a prostitue that seemingly no-one or everyone about.   The mystery is a good “cold case” with no-one being entirely truthful or complete in their information with the two detectives, red herrings and blind alleys galore, which should satisfy the lovers of the genre.  If I have one niggle in this respect it’s simply my doubt that any prostitute would turn down any offer of marriage to a wealthy and respectable man on the chance that she might land another.

Cochrane’s writing style is subtly omniscient at times, which I happen to like a lot, but it may not appeal to those who prefer a tight third person point of view which never veers from one person at a time.  I think it suits the tone and the setting of the books, however.

Highly recommended and I look forward to the next book enormously.  I just need to find another reviewer–however if the standard continues this high, I’m sure they’ll love number six in the series as much as I loved one to five.

This being published by Samhain, the ebook is available now, with a wait of around a year for the print edition.

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