gentleman's madnessRating: 4.25 stars
Buy Links: 
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Length: Novel

1887, suburb of London

After being caught with another man, academic John Gilliam reluctantly agreed to allow his family to check him in to an asylum for “treatment.”  He knew it would ease his worried parents’ minds and figured it would only be temporary.  But John is allowed no freedom, no control over anything, and subjected to awful “treatments” to reprogram him out of his deviancy. And now even worse, they have forbidden him books and most recently pens and pencils for fear John will get overly excited or try to hurt himself with them.  At this point John despairs of when he will ever be released, and how he will manage to survive until that happens.

Sam Tully is an attendant at the hospital and really feels for John, especially when he sees how lost the man is without even the ability to write.  And Tully is even more sympathetic because he shares John’s interest in men.  He understands just what it is like to have these feelings, though he knows he must keep them hidden or be fired.  But Tully does manage to get John access to his books and his pens, as long as Tully keeps close watch.  Soon the men begin to spend more time together, John helping teach Tully as thanks for getting him the books.

Despite their different backgrounds and education levels, the two men begin to develop a friendship, and an attraction blooms between them.  They only have stolen moments together, as getting caught would cost Tully his job and be a further set back in John’s release.  But soon trouble begins to find them, as another attendant begins to notice their interaction, threatening to reveal all.  And John and Tully find out secrets about a conspiracy at the hospital, knowledge that can put them both in danger.  Time may be running out for them to get out the truth, and hopefully get John released from the hospital before the danger increases and it is too late for both of them.

I am a big fan of Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon’s historicals and have read most of them. So when I saw this new release, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  This story has a bit of a different focus from the traditional historical, in that it largely takes place within the asylum.  It is a fascinating look at the medical practices and treatments of the time.  Not only the arcane idea that homosexuality is a mental deviancy, but the so-called treatments administered in attempts to cure it.  John undergoes blast with cold water jets, dunkings, time in a straightjacket in a padded “rest” room, and many other awful abuses under the guise of helping him.  And the doctors are equally misguided in their attempts to treat the  ailments of other patients. I found this such an interesting setting and a great way to learn more about attitudes toward homosexuality and treatment for mental illness during this time.

I also really enjoyed the developing relationship between John and Tully.  John is wealthy and educated, but when caught with another man, is immediately outcast and a shame to his family.  He is an intellectual man, full of ideas and thoughts in his head, with almost a buzzing excitement and energy for learning.  We can really feel for him how demoralizing and difficult this whole experience is. Not just the awful treatments, but being locked up, having no independence or dignity or respect.  He has no control over his life and is helpless while others make decisions for him.  And of course it is all the more painful knowing that none of this is going to help, that he will never be “cured” and, as a result, may never get out.

John comes from a life of privilege, yet he is totally accepting of Tully, despite their differences in class and education.  Tully used to be a dock worker but an injury to his back brought him to work at the asylum.  He is kind and caring and good with his patients.  Tully has a way about him that calms people when they act out.  It is clear that he truly cares, and is not just doing his job.  Although Tully has little education, he is still a smart man, and he and John are able to talk and share ideas together.  I loved them together, this fragile relationship built in this terrible environment fraught with danger, but somehow able to flourish. And I especially liked the epilogue and seeing where these men end up.

I do think things were a bit slow here to start for me.  By its nature the relationship takes a little time before the men are able to act on their feelings, but the book spends a lot of time with the day-to-day activities in the asylum before things start moving forward with the relationship or with the suspense side of the plot. The second half moved faster for me as we see the men begin to really connect, as well as learn about the secrets being hidden in the asylum.

So once again another really enjoyable historical from Dee and Devon.  I think folks who are interested in the views on homosexuality and medical treatments of the time will find this one especially entertaining.  I definitely enjoyed it.

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