Rating: 3 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

In the late 1850s, London is home to a wide array of people from all walks of life. From poor widows to landed nobles, well-meaning schoolteachers to dangerous loan sharks, molly boys, judges, reporters and lawyers, Jews and gentiles. In the midst of all this, banker Nathan Walpert is found dead and a Jewish boxer, Ezra Curiel, the Hammering Hebrew, is arrested on charges of murder. Silas, the boxer’s lover, swears he’s innocent.

It’s up to John Seales, Raoul Desjardins, Toby Marsh, and Magnus Dawson to do everything in their power to discover the truth behind the events. With both Nathan and Ezra being men of a certain inclination, along with the chief witness to the event and many of the involved with uncovering the truth, bringing the matter to justice and proving Ezra innocent will be difficult. Being a sodomite may not be quite the same evil as being a murderer, but it still involves prison time.

This is the third volume in the Ormond Yard Romantic Adventures series and features a large cast of people, among them John and Raoul, and Magnus and Toby and several barristers and doctors who know one another thanks to Magnus and Toby’s soirées. While the blurb of the book hints at this being a romance between Silas, a law clerk, and Ezra, the boxer arrested for murder, the two of them are merely a framing device and the relationship between the two men is rather invisible.

Silas is reckless, going from man to man, cock to cock with abandon until he meets Ezra, and suddenly he doesn’t seem to be able to get it up for anyone but Ezra. Then, Ezra is thrown in jail and Silas is busy running around town, knocking on various doors, spreading the story and begging for help, pulling together a half dozen people. After that, Silas’ role in the story is mostly witnessing him work as a law clerk, getting a promotion because the senior law clerk died, getting a new boy who can be his assistant, and occasionally worrying that as a gay man he’ll likely die alone.

Ezra has a chapter showing how the jail system in London works at this time. Because he has money in his pocket, he’s able to buy a place at a better jail where he can guy food from food stalls rather than eating the slop served to prisoners in the poor person’s jail. It’s an interesting look at the penal system and shows the strongest part of this series, which is the historical research. The author helps 1850s London come to life; there are mentions of the newfangled bicycle, broadsheets, politics, and issues with buying and redistricting property. There are also lengthy looks at how horrible London of the time was for poor people, as John takes Magnus on a walk through a slum so he can get some more stories to write. There are talks of charities and how much good they want to do versus how limited their reach is.

Because Ezra is Jewish, there is also talk about antisemitism, about how Jewish people are treated at this time, and how Ezra’s wife runs a soup kitchen for Jewish poor. Unfortunately, all of the good points are bogged down for me by the way they’re delivered. This is a story that is primarily told, rather than shown. I didn’t feel like I was experiencing the events, but rather simply sitting back and having them recited to me by this character or that; I didn’t see Magnus’ reactions to meeting a poor widow with children to feed, I simply read a summary. And I found it to be boring. Well researched, but boring.

I also felt let down by the fact that while the blurb sets this up as a romance between Silas and Ezra, it is much more of a murder mystery. A historical murder mystery with a large cast of predominately gay men can be interesting, but I would have preferred if that had been how the book was introduced to me. As it is, I went in with one expectation and felt like I ended up reading a different book altogether.

While the writing is decent, and the plot and pacing solid, this one didn’t fully work for me. I don’t suggest this book if you’re looking for a romance, but if you like historical fiction with LGBT+ characters, then you might enjoy this one.