James Rowley is man who lives in relative comfort. His brother is an Earl and James is able to spend his hours writing stories for the popular masses. He has something of a contentious relationship with his publisher, Leo Wells. Having never met, the two tend to send scathing letters back and forth that disguise a secret interest in one another. But this almost playful correspondence takes a dark turn when James discovers one of his works has been stolen and published by someone else.
Feeling Leo must be responsible for this betrayal, James decides to teach him a thing or two about messing with the nobility. In doing so, James discovers how cruel he can be. With so much damage done, James must find a way to regain Leo’s trust. If he can’t, then he’ll have lost his chance at love.
Like a Gentleman manages to pack quite a bit into its relatively small size. Unfortunately, a dislikable main character and a convoluted plot cripple this novella almost from the start. Which is a shame because the writing here was relatively strong and the pacing was well established. There was potential that the main character promptly erased.
When we’re introduced to James he doesn’t seem like a particularly evil man. Instead, he comes off as a second son with too much time on his hands and a writing hobby his class would find pedestrian. But he soon becomes the villain of the piece, though I’m not sure the author intended he should. James’ actions towards Leo are reflective of a man who has no problem using wealth and power to degrade and belittle those without. As such, it’s almost impossible to like James as a character. And while some of his actions create unintended consequences, it takes him far too much time to acknowledge his behaviors. In addition to all of this, James uses sex as a weapon, which makes his character all the more despicable. Leo is a somewhat flat character, but you can’t help feeling for him as James proceeds to destroy his life.
The plot, or at least the reasoning for the waspish relationship between James and Leo prior to their first meeting, reads as excessively tangled and rather weak. It never makes much sense and distracts from an otherwise strong start. The rest of the story devolves after James’ initial act of contempt and simply serves to further disconnect the characters from one another. There is no obvious reason for these two men to like one another, let alone love one another. Their initially catty correspondence seemed like a great set up for romance but none of that materialized.
Like a Gentleman could have gone a lot of different directions and so many of them would have worked better than the one chosen. James is such a thoroughly despicable character that it was impossible to remain connected to the story or the relationship. Toss in a plot that never worked and the end result is a story that fails to deliver.