Clem Talleyfer runs a lodging house in London. It is a job he is good at and that he enjoys. Clem holds the position at the grace of his brother, who owns the house. It is a requirement of the job that Clem allow drunken lout Lugtrout to live there free of charge, but other than that, Clem likes the lodgers. He particularly likes one Mr. Rowley Green, a quiet man who lives in the house and works next door. Clem has been admiring Rowley for months, and the man comes regularly for tea in the evenings, but Clem isn’t sure if Rowley feels the same. Clem isn’t particularly good at reading the signs, but when Rowley makes it clear he is interested, Clem is thrilled that his feelings are reciprocated.
Clem and Rowley are beginning to explore their new relationship when the dead and brutally tortured body of one of the lodgers ends up dumped on their doorstep. On top of that, they face burglary and arson, and it is clear that trouble is brewing. Rowley and Clem seem to have gotten themselves caught up in something very dangerous, but they have no idea what, or who is after them. Now the men must untangle the mystery of the murder if they have any hope of surviving long enough to continue building their future together.
Hurray! A new series from one of my favorite authors, K.J. Charles. I adore Charles’ writing, and her Charm of Magpies series remains in my top handful of all time, so I was thrilled to see this new series. First off, it is an interesting historical in that it takes place in 1873, rather later than many books we see in the genre. Charles is such a master with historicals and her knowledge and research is evident in all of her books. So she again does a wonderful job here of immersing us in the time period and giving a sense what life was like toward the end of the century. I found Rowley’s job to be of particular interest, as he is what we would probably call a taxidermist today, though they used different terminology. Again the research is clear into the profession and there are wonderful details about how he worked. But along with that, I loved the way Charles uses this job as a way to show the growing bond between Clem and Rowley as Clem is one of the few people who really understands Rowley’s art and finds himself moved by what Rowley creates. Charles just manages to imbue her books with such a sense of time and place and a realism that feels natural and never forced.
Speaking of Clem and Rowley, I adored them together. This story sets the men up pretty much right away as the attraction between them has been growing for a while. So they come together rather easily and quickly early on the story. I have read many books where this doesn’t work, where having the guys so close to established when the book starts leaves the reader feeling left out of their connection. But not to worry here, as I felt the intensity of their relationship and the feelings the men have for one another so strongly. I loved that both of these men are not your typical romance heroes. In fact, neither man thinks he is much to be excited about at all. Clem is sweet and friendly and caring, but he is also easily overwhelmed by crowds and noise, and is perhaps a bit naive and overly trusting. Clem needs someone with gentle patience, but also someone who treats him like a man capable of handling his own life and making decisions, and Rowley does just that. For his part, Rowley sees himself as sort of average, nothing too exciting. He can’t quite figure out what a gorgeous man like Clem would want with him, but Clem sees Rowley’s strength and caring. Both of these men have had pasts that make it hard to trust, so it is wonderful to see them opening their hearts up to one another.
I love the slow, patient way Rowley and Clem interact with each other. Charles does such a wonderful job building the intimacy between them, even in the smallest things. In particular, we see this when the guys are together sexually, as there is just this amazing, quiet intensity between them that is so romantic and sexy. It grows even more when Clem learns about Rowley’s more submissive desires and how he likes Clem to take the lead in their lovemaking. There is something just so sexy about them together and I loved the way their physical relationship emphasizes the connection they have romantically as well.
Once the guys are together the story shifts its focus largely to the mystery surrounding the dead lodger, and things escalate quickly from there. I don’t want to get too much into the nature of the mystery for fear of spoiling things, but we have murder, arson, robbery, blackmail, double crossing, and more all in play here. It is exciting and unfolds in a way that kept me engaged throughout the story. I liked how Charles does not abandon the relationship development in favor of the mystery here though. These guys remain very much in character throughout and have to navigate their growing realtionship and learning about one another as they also try to solve the mystery and protect their lives. It is exciting and really well done and I love the way Charles sets things up for the rest of the series.
So I am super excited about this one and for the rest of the series. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at the start here, but the book picks up steam as it goes and kept me excited throughout. I loved Clem and Rowley and particularly adored that they aren’t your typical heroes, but are just perfect (and perfectly heroic) with each other. I loved this one and can’t wait for more.