Graham Cowrie has a few coins in his pockets and a small valise. Everything else he carries, from his name to his references, are utterly fake. He hopes to start a new life as tutor for a wealthy widower’s children in Yorkshire. Despite having no experience, Graham possesses intelligence and enough confidence to bluff his way into the position. His new employer, Sir Richard Allinson, is a private man, clearly still held in the grip of grief. His twin sons, Whitney and Clive, are doing little better and even the house seems weighed down with a sense of depression and foreboding.
Graham is determined to teach Whit and Clive and help them heal. He wants to do the same for their father and, given his attraction to Richard, Graham finds this task particularly important. Graham begins to fall in love with the man and his children, but realizes that something evil resides at Allinson Hall. He and Richard will have to challenge Hell itself in order to save Clive, Whit, and their chance to become a family.
I’m generally a big fan of Bonnie Dee’s and while The Tutor isn’t her strongest work, it still pretty fun as long as the reader is willing to suspend disbelief. The writing is crisp and evocative and Dee is excellent at establishing a strong sense of place and time without becoming overly bogged down in useless details. The reader can almost feel the suffocating darkness that hangs over Allinson Hall and this adds another layer of suspense to a fairly straightforward plot.
The story is pretty simple and while the idea of a mysterious and dangerous haunting is rather intriguing, this idea never fully takes root. Towards the start of the novel, there is an aura of menace and the potential for something truly terrifying rests just beneath the surface. Towards the end of the book, this gives way to a slightly ridiculous and worn premise involving possession. It is resolved too quickly, too cleanly, and seems to lose much of the promise it once held. The Tutor is still quite entertaining, but tends to limp towards the finish line rather than crossing strong.
Graham is a complex and rather charming character. He has made his way up from nothing and exists primarily by his wits and charisma. There is no true malice in him and he clearly adores his young charges, which makes him easy to like. If it seems a little far fetched that Allinson failed to do any real investigation into the man before hiring him, then it’s easier just to let that one go rather than dwelling on it. Instead, I just appreciated his successes and admired his stubborn tenacity in spite of so many obstacles.
Richard is harder to know. He is never given as much depth as Graham and he often seems to come off as cold and rather uncaring towards his children. The author tells us he is grieving and wrestling with a mountain of guilt, but he was much harder to relate to and I think his character would have benefited from a bit more fleshing out. If Graham is all passion then Richard is granite and while he has flashes of warmth, it isn’t towards the end of the book that his relationship with Graham felt truly believable.
The Tutor was a thoroughly enjoyable, though flawed historical romance. The plot is solid, if simple and while the payoff is never as strong as I’d like, it still ends up being fairly engaging. Richard’s character could have used a bit of work, but Graham is complex enough to keep the reader’s attention. If you enjoy your romances with a few spooky overtones, then I’d recommend giving The Tutor a try.