Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 6 hours, 27 minutes
Hither, Page is a post-World War II historical whodunit set in the village of Wychcomb St. Mary in the English Cotswold countryside. After the war, James Sommers returns home to be the village doctor. But he is suffering from shell-shock (PTSD) from his time serving as a wartime field medic. James is a gentle, unassuming man who just wants to find peace of mind.
He felt adrift, unmoored, belonging to no place, to no one. The only thing that was truly his own were the thoughts that plagued him.
When Mrs. Hoggett, a charwoman with her nose in everyone’s business, falls down a staircase and dies, the question arises – was she murdered? James is determined to find the answer. Enter Leo Page, a jaded spy working for British Intelligence. He’s sent to Wychcomb St. Mary to investigate Mrs. Hoggett’s death. Leo hasn’t lived over a month in the same place for a decade, and has to assume a new identity with each new assignment.
Both protagonists are damaged: James with his invisible wounds from combat fatigue, and Leo from the emotional and mental toll of having no family, no friends, no roots, and no past. He can no longer find his true self under all the layers of fiction.
Leo claims to be an insurance clerk visiting the village as a connoisseur of church architecture. Both James and Leo faintly recognize each other, though. James eventually places Leo as a French Maquis, or someone posing as one, who he stitched up in the war, and soon deduces that Leo is on official business related to Mrs. Hoggett’s death. Leo himself wonders why he’s been sent to investigate an inconsequential death in a small village.
As the sleuthing gets under way, a mutual attraction between the men builds. Leo is more forward and flirtatious in his pursuit of James, and he begins to have an existential crisis of what ifs, namely:
Leo wondered what it would be like in a world where he could fill his days with things that were good and sweet and uncomplicated. He’d like to spend a few days in bed with James, but also having tea and doing crosswords and whatever else people did when they weren’t Leo Page.
Hither, Page is a charming audiobook with an engaging mystery, perfect for a winter day curled up in a favorite chair. The romance is lukewarm, though. There’s no seduction, although Leo is a little flirtatious. We are told more about their attraction than shown it developing. Part of that may be because of the time frame, two decades before homosexuality between men became legal in England. Nothing progressed beyond kissing until most of the way through the book. But they do eventually fall into bed together, whether it’s because of physical or emotional need.
The story has two main conflicts: who committed the murder, and what will happen to James and Leo when it’s time for Leo to leave for a new job and assume a new identity? James is set in the village life and Leo doesn’t set down roots.
The man James was – no use mincing words – falling for wasn’t even real, it was all battle camouflage. And the last thing on earth James needed was another reminder of war.
The conflicts do resolve nicely, although both James and Leo seem somewhat resigned to the fact it might not work out between them, and neither appears overly concerned.
Cat Sebastian’s story is enhanced by Joel Leslie’s on-point delivery. His narration, as usual, is a delight. I initially found it difficult to keep the characters straight (so to speak) through no fault of Leslie’s. He does a commendable job distinguishing voices, but there are only so many ways to voice over a dozen secondary and tertiary characters, two-thirds of them appearing regularly. I love Leslie’s perfect portrayal of fifteen-year-old Wendy. It is as age appropriate as the voices of elderly Cora and Edith. I’m a stickler for women’s voices and Leslie does a fine job with the many women in Hither, Page. His voices sound female, not like a man trying to sound female. Time and again, Leslie brings the supporting characters to life and I almost enjoyed the varied villagers with their foibles and follies more than the two main characters.
This is book one in the new Page and Sommers series, so hopefully we’ll see a warmer romance develop in subsequent books. I do look forward to reading or listening to the men continue their crime fighting partnership. This is my first Cat Sebastian novel and I found her writing, and Leslie’s narration, a pleasure to experience. And I love the cover! Hither, Page receives a solid recommendation.