Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: Joel Leslie
Length: 6 hours, 28 minutes
After a difficult mission, all Leo Page wants is to return to Wychcomb St. Mary, return to Dr. James Sommers. Instead of his lover waiting with a tin of soup, Leo finds James’ house locked up tight. The locals inform Leo that James has been called away to Cornwall to hear the reading of the will of one of James’ uncles. That strikes Leo as funny; James’ relations have treated James like a pariah ever since his father committed suicide after the Great War. And Leo has been around long enough to expect the worst when wealthy people gather over the reading of a will. Exhaustion is nothing to Leo’s fear that James may be in danger. And so Leo drives all night to get to Cornwall. Upon arrival, Leo doesn’t find a dangerous den of cutthroat wealthy elites, but a small number of tired people struggling to understand the final wishes of a dead patriarch.
At the reading of the will, James and the others are stunned to discover the vast majority of Uncle Rupert’s estate is to be awarded to whoever can solve a mystery. Some twenty years ago, Rupert’s elder daughter, Rose, went missing, presumably while on a morning swim in the ocean. Not everyone bought the story and Rupert was one of them. His final wish was for the truth about what happened to Rose to be discovered. Anyone who can untangle that knot the very weekend the will is read, well, they will inherit Rupert’s estate. Now that he’s back in a home where he spent many happy summers as a child, James also begins to doubt the swimming accident story. Although he has no interest in taking ownership of the house, James does want the truth. Lucky for him, his boyfriend is a professional spy for M16. Together, James and Leo are bound to find something out. But whether any of the things they find will solve the mystery of the missing daughter…time will tell.
The Missing Page is book two in Cat Sebastian’s Page and Sommers series. It’s set in 1948 England and takes place a few months after the events in book one that brought the two MCs together. Leo’s line of work remains much the same–i.e. spying–but he now works under the auspices of M16. James still has his country practice, though very little of his role as a doctor is needed for much of this book. There was an interesting cast of supporting characters, all present either as the beneficiaries or as family friends/acquaintances of the deceased Uncle Rupert. The supporting cast, of course, serves as a vehicle for doling out nuggets of information and clues about this twenty-year-old mystery. I also liked how they helped remind me of the different values of the era. For example, Rose seemed to balk at all the social niceties expected of her; James remembers her as wanting nothing more than to muck about with car engines, which tried the patience of her family at times. Dr. Marchand, Rose’s brother-in-law, was a practicing psychologist. At the time, his profession was viewed as only barely socially acceptable. That didn’t stop Marchand from looking down on James and his battle fatigue (what we would consider PTSD today) or James’ father for having committed suicide (another enormous taboo for the era).
The set up and tone of the story gives this book a big “cozy mystery” feeling. All the action is contained, if not strictly to the estate, then to the manor house and the nearby village. Everyone appearing on page has some role to play in the book. I thought having Leo available was a great way to keep the action moving forward and was often impressed with how sharp James was in following or taking the lead in their investigation into the cold case. Not only did it really help solidify the sense the plot was building towards something, but it also really helped me see how well James and Leo fit together personality wise. I also really liked that there wasn’t just the single mystery of the missing child. Sebastian wove in several seeming inconsistencies that I thought obfuscated the big picture. In other words, there were plenty of leads to think about and I liked that not everything was necessarily all about the mystery of what happened to Rose. Leo often uses the analogy of untangling a knot and I feel like that describes the action rather well. Everything is all jumbled together, but all connected in some way.
As far as romance goes, it was hard for me to remember that Leo and James have only known each other for a few months, that their affair started with instant attraction. I loved how Leo knew what he wanted: a boyfriend in James, to share a real home, to build a future together. At the same time, Leo is so hesitant to label any of it, let alone speak about such things to James, for fear of ruining it. James wants nothing more than to be with Leo, even when the man is frustratingly overprotective. They may not have been together a long time, but I got the sense that they have completely fallen for each other. Again, the way these two seem to read one another, not just between the sheets, but when tackling the case at hand, showed how attuned they are to one another. While eventually these two ultimately do find a way to voice what they want out of their relationship, I rather liked the herculean efforts they both went to not to potentially scare the other one off (even if, in reality, they would only be beating one another to the punch).
The audio version of this book clocks in at 6 hours 28 minutes and Joel Leslie provides the narration. The narration struck me as a bit…stodgy. Part of this may be how I immediately picked up on what, to me, were noticeably loud intakes of breath before many sentences early in the recording. That and the slower cadence of the delivery. I found myself imagining rather a much older gentleman reading this aloud. That mental imagery of “much older” was redoubled when I heard Leslie’s stylings of James and most particularly Leo. That said, I found his vision matched the characters of Dr. Marchand and his wife, Camila (Rose’s sister) perfectly. They both had a delightful verklempt quality that I thought fit with Marchand’s dismissive derision and Camilla’s aloof elitism. And there was one particular scene that delighted me immensely. Specifically, where Leslie slips into another English accent, but which was also immediately recognizable as being distinct and different from the one Leslie uses for the prose and the other characters. At this particular juncture in the story, delivering these few lines in such a distinctly different voice–one that the narration itself gives a label to–was just superbly effective.
Overall, The Missing Page is a delightful addition to the Page and Sommers series. There is the promise of a cozy mystery and Sebastian delivers big on that without really upping the body count. I liked how James and Leo interact with each other, shore each other up as they reckon with their perceived shortcomings and work at overcoming them. And I liked that, after a few wild guesses, I hit upon the “solution” to the mystery before the big on-page reveal. The audio was pretty good, though I felt the delivery was a stronger match with the supporting characters.