Rating: 4 stars
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Lord Everett Stanley is a second son, which means the options for his future are limited if he wants to stay in his father’s good graces. His father plans for Everett to go into the clergy, something that definitely holds no interest for Everett. He has gotten his father to agree to allow him a year in London before taking on his new profession, but his father is now demanding Everett return home immediately. Everett is doing his best to ignore the ever increasing summons and to eke out his remaining months enjoying the relative freedom of London, including the ability to enjoy his time in the various clubs catering to men who enjoy the company of other men. However, when a murderer strikes and the target is a gay men, Everett and his friends can’t help but worry it will draw unwanted attention to the clubs from law enforcement.
Inspector Archibald Franklin may be young, but he has already risen through the ranks at Whitechapel’s H Division for his investigative skills. Archie has seen a lot on the job, but this latest murder is particularly grisly, and he is determined to find the killer. The investigation leads Archie to an encounter with Everett, and the two men find they are immediately drawn to one another. But not only is homosexuality still unsafe, but Archie has never let himself act on his attraction to men. Not to mention that as the son of a lord, Everett is in a totally different social class than Archie, and any interactions beyond the case would raise suspicions.
Despite knowing there can be no future for them, Archie and Everett can’t help but ultimately act on their attraction to one another. However, with a killer on the loose, things are getting increasingly dangerous. It soon becomes clear that the killer is even more prolific than they could have imagined and their methods are ever more horrific. Now, Archie must track down the killer before they kill again — especially now that they have Everett in their sights.
Molly Boys is the first in Vawn Cassidy’s new London Underside series and this is an engaging historical with a great sense of place. The story is set in London in 1885 and really showcases the seedy underbelly of the city. Cassidy brings the city to life, focusing on members of three different classes and their lives. We have the wealthy lords like Everett, the working men like Archie, and then the horribly poor, like a young boy we meet named Jack. I liked the way the mystery exposes us to all three layers and I found the look into Jack’s life particularly interesting (not to mention tragic). There is just a great sense of place here that really sets the tone and the mood for the story so well.
As the book opens, we meet Everett and get a look into his world. As the second son, his options are limited and his hateful father has just decided Everett will join the clergy, despite his total lack of interest. He is in London for the year as a temporary reprieve and we see him at some of the “molly houses” indulging in sex and the oblivion of drugs (note that includes sex with his best friend and others). Sort of running parallel to that, we meet Archie as he begins the investigation and we start to learn more about the case. As I said, the murders really showcase the darker side of the city, especially as we learn more about the murders and the killer. I found the case interesting and nicely developed. While we do learn who the killer is before Archie does, I think the backstory as to why and what they want to accomplish carries the story even once we know who is behind it all. Cassidy also makes use of a variety of POVs; along with primary narration from Everett and Archie, we also get POVs from Jack, from various friends, from victims, and from the killer, among others. It is an interesting approach, and I liked the way we get insight into various characters. It works particularly well in giving a look into the heads of the victims and bad guys and adds nicely to the intensity. I will say things take somewhat of a twist toward the end in terms of adding a supernatural element that definitely threw me, as it felt out of nowhere. In hindsight, I can see places where Cassidy laid the groundwork and, looking back, I think it works better than it did for me in the moment. But I do feel like I needed more foundation here to really back up the direction things end up going.
From a relationship end, I did enjoy both Archie and Everett and found them interesting characters. I’ll admit that I didn’t feel the chemistry here quite as well as I would have hoped. Maybe this is because the men are operating on two different tracks for much of the first half of the book. They do intersect occasionally, but have very limited interaction. So we are told they they are drawn to each other, but I just didn’t totally feel it. This is very much a “your mileage may vary” situation, but I just didn’t quite get the emotion from their relationship that I wanted. Also, be aware that the story also ends with things very much up in the air for the pair; it’s not even really an HFN situation. That said, these guys do continue on in the next book and their future is set up in some interesting ways, particularly for Everett, so I will be interested to see where things go from here.
Overall, I found this one an interesting story with a great sense of place. Readers who enjoy a darker mystery, particularly those interested in a “Ripper-style” vibe, should find a lot to like here. The book sets things up nicely for the continuing story and I am looking forward to seeing what is next for Everett and Archie.