Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: Wyatt Baker
Length: 6 hours, 35 minutes
Sebastian Snow has just moved in with his boyfriend, Calvin Winters, and things are moving forward in their relationship. Sebastian still has a lot of self doubts, but he knows that Calvin loves him and the pair are happy together. Things are shaken up, however, when once again another mystery arrives at Sebastian’s Emporium doorstep. He gets a mysterious package that turns out to contain a Thomas Edison Kinetoscope. The device dates back to the 19th century and was one of the early forays into moving images. Calvin knows all about the history of the kinetoscope, but he has no idea who sent it to him and why. The box contains no note or sender information. Even more mysterious, the package also contains an original film reel with some historic footage previously thought lost. But if that isn’t shocking enough, the end of the film has some spliced footage showing a more than 100-year-old murder.
Sebastian wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t dying to know more about who sent him the kinetoscope and what happened with the murder. But as Calvin reminds him, that case is way too old for anyone involved to still be alive and it is way too cold to investigate. But soon, more trouble is at Sebastian’s door in the form of a dead body, someone shooting up the Emporium, break ins, and attacks. It is clear that the old mystery is connected to some modern day crimes and someone is willing to do anything to get their hands on that film. Sebastian may be in danger, but he can’t stop himself from digging further into the case. But the more he learns, the more his life is at risk. It will take all Sebastian’s skill (plus some help from Calvin and Neil) to stay one step ahead of the killer.
The Mystery of the Moving Image is the third book in C.S. Poe’s Snow and Winter series and I was very excited to get to reconnect with this series almost three years since I listened to the last audio. One of the hallmarks of this series is the wonderful amount of historical detail Poe brings to the mysteries. It really makes the foundation of these books so fascinating as they are really imbued with such a wonderful sense of history. The details never overwhelm the story, but it is clear how much research must be involved to provide so much richness to the mysteries. In this case, we are brought into the world of 19th century inventions and one of the founders of modern cinema, W.K.L. Dickson. While Thomas Edison gets most of the credit for the invention, we learn that Dickson was the one behind it all. I loved delving into the history of the kinetoscope, early film, and some of the key players. I am not sure how much creative license Poe takes with history in order to develop the mystery here, but there is still so much richness and detail that it really brings it all to life. I very much enjoyed following along to learn more about the kinetoscope and filmmaking, as well as uncovering who was behind the historical and modern day murders. The two timelines tie together nicely and work as one big story.
From a relationship end, things are progressing well with Calvin and Sebastian. They are moving in together and taking the next steps forward in their relationship. I like how both men are learning to be more open with one another. Calvin has always kept a lot of his emotions bottled up and here we see he is getting better at sharing his feelings. I also loved getting to see Sebastian recognize some of his vulnerabilities, the insecurities that plague him that he often covers up with grouchiness or flippancy. Here we see Sebastian taking some real steps to be more confident, and to be more honest with Calvin when he struggles with that confidence. It was nice to see that the men are really moving forward together emotionally.
These books have a lot of excitement, but also the cozy mystery vibe of a unassuming character who somehow constantly finds trouble and is determined to sleuth it out on their own. I’ll admit, I still had quite a few moments here where I wanted to yell at Sebastian for his decisions. Even knowing he is being risky, or that Calvin just asked him to wait, or that he really should share information, Sebastian still has a tendency to just do what he wants without much thought. For example, he knows the bad guys are after some specific items, and he goes to a stranger’s house to retrieve those items all alone, without even mentioning it to Calvin. I recognize that I am going to have to just accept Sebastian’s questionable decisions since it doesn’t look like he is changing any time soon, but at times I do find it frustrating.
As with the other books in this series, I listened to this story in audio. Before going too far, I’ll note the that series has changed narrators mid stream, as the previous narrator is no longer recording. I will admit, it was hard, especially at first, to get used to another voice for these characters. Derrick McClain’s voice for Sebastian, in particular, felt very tied to his character for me. So while I have tried to base my rating purely on new narrator, Wyatt Baker’s, performance, it was a little jarring in the beginning getting used to someone new.
Overall, I think Baker did a nice job with the story. He gives good energy to the performance, with nice inflection and a solid overall delivery. Sebastian has a snarky side that comes through nicely and Baker’s style end tone fits well with the book. My biggest issue, however, is Baker user very little vocal differentiation among his characters. The style for most LGBTQ romance audio has shifted quite firmly to “acted” out narration over the last few years, and listening to a book with very similar sounding characters made it feel not quite as performed as other audiobooks. It also frequently made it difficult to tell characters apart when in conversation. There were plenty of times where I couldn’t quite tell who was speaking, which distracted me from the story. I also found that Calvin’s voice just didn’t really match the deeper, gruff style of his character. Sometimes he was just so… sunny, I guess. Which is not to say that he is always grumpy, but the voice just didn’t always fit how Cal is portrayed. I also feel like Sebastian often sounds biting and angry, even when that is not suggested by the scene. I think this is Baker’s attempts at clear diction, but it makes Sebastian sound mad at inopportune times, such as when the guys are in bed together. But while I do think it make take listeners a bit to get used to Baker’s delivery, overall I found the narration smooth enough to continue to enjoy this series in audio format.
Overall, this was another great installment in this very entertaining series. The mystery was interesting and exciting, and Calvin and Sebastian are a really great couple. The fourth book has just been released on audio as well, so I am looking forward to continuing their journey.