Author: K.J. Charles
Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link: Amazon
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb: A slow-burning romance and a chilling mystery bind two singular men in the suspenseful first book of a new Victorian series from K. J. Charles.
Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship…
Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding… it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.
Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts
Review: If I were to sum up this story in two words, they would be: charming and brutal. An odd mix you say? Not at the pen of KJ Charles. This fetching romance set amid murder, mystery, and familial dysfunction was impossible to put down.
Clem operates Talleyfer’s, a London lodging house for skilled artisans. No riff raff here! Well, save for Lugtrout, a drunkard former clergyman who is allowed lifetime lodgings per instructions from the unnamed absentee owner of the property. Clem dutifully puts up with Lugtrout’s drunken escapades and bizarre rantings, as is his sworn duty. Clem’s preferred lodger to spend evenings with, is Rowley Green. A quiet, intriguing, and unassuming preserver (to us, a taxidermist), Rowley had set-up shop next door several months earlier and since become a frequent visitor of Clem’s.
Clem and Rowley were in the habit of meeting in Clem’s parlor for tea most evenings to discuss the day. Although each man in his own mind had come to realize he would like to meet for more than tea, they both remained oblivious as to whether such advances would be welcome. Watching the interactions between the two men and hearing their individual thoughts lent insight into so much. Clem appreciated Rowley’s calm demeanor, the dexterity involved in his work as a preserver, as well as his general kindness. Rowley appreciated Clem’s ability to keep a neat and comfortable home for his lodgers, his genuine interest in- and keen insight into – Rowley’s profession, and well yes…Clem’s handsome Anglo-Indian looks. I was immediately smitten with both men. Well and truly. I was also completely agog with Rowley’s work – the description of his shop, his mounts, and the details of his craft. Astounding research by the author integrated seamlessly and profoundly into the story.
It’s not long before Clem and Rowley aren’t able to deny a mutual attraction. Neither man is new to liaisons with other men, but both are new to having their hearts involved. And they each have reasons to question the motives of anyone bedding them. Except in this case…they do not. Their attraction is all encompassing, a union of the minds as well as the bodies. This budding relationship between Clem and Rowley is sweet, genuine, and largely nonabrasive. Well, there are the secrets… which are dealt with in due course. Overall, the two complement each other beautifully, and even when they argue, they don’t pout or shut the other out. They each possess a great understanding and respect for what makes the other tick. The couple work things through in a loving, mature manner, all while knowing they are gaining a better understanding of each other by doing so. All of this made me feel slightly gooey, and also somewhat relieved. I don’t enjoy every relationship in my books being an angst-fest. Besides, these men had enough else to worry about….
Lugtrout causes more trouble by disappearing. Clem is desperate to find out what has become of him, due mostly to not wanting to let down the owner of Talleyfer’s. Lugtrout lived under Clem’s roof, and now he was missing! Meanwhile, there is a break-in at Rowley’s shop, yet nothing is stolen. All of this sudden trouble is most peculiar. It’s off to the Jack and Knave, a pub catering to gentleman of a certain persuasion, where Clem has friends who he believes can help. We meet Nathaniel, a lawyer type, and the detective, Mark, who both agree to help. It was great fun following along as Lugtrout’s disappearance morphed into murder, arson and the unveiling of family skeletons. Clem and Rowley put two and two together and made excellent and engaging amateur sleuths.
The story delves off into some dark moments, not just the obvious crimes, but the treatment of some humans towards others. Rowley’s father was atrocious, as was Clem’s – each in his own way, each man leaving deep scars on his son. Unfortunately, Clem’s familial issues didn’t end with his father. Rowley also had to deal with practicing a profession (as a preserver, or “stuffer”) that most viewed as macabre. Clem’s distress at fast-paced or crowded social interactions caused some to view him as mentally slow, and then there was his mixed heritage…. At this point I must applaud the author for always, always doing stellar research and providing readers with not only a captivating story, but coloring said story with accurate history and a wide variety of authentic characters. Yes, people of mixed ethnicity existed in London in 1873. Yes, people from the “wrong side of the river” were known to rise above their poor birth. Yes, people who were labeled and tossed aside as “simple” were quite possibly dealing with the likes of dyspraxia – as was Clem. Despite some darkness, there is a fair amount of humor -apparently Victorian folks enjoyed a good stuffer joke or two – and a few inside KJ Charles’ world jokes too.
A great many historical novels focus on the aristocracy which is well and good, but it was refreshing to read one with working class main characters. Societal disparities were present in this story, but not a focal point. In fact, the other side of the coin was exposed a bit. Seeing two good men such as Clem and Rowley come together and shine in the light of each other’s idiosyncrasies was a truly rewarding reading experience. I’m chomping on the bit for the next installment of this wonderful series where we’ll hopefully see how they are faring, and get to know more about Nathaniel and Mark as well.