Review by Erastes
From the publishers website:
Overseer Nicolas Wells had been coming to Mount Desert Island for ten summers to help build cottages for the rich and powerful. Despite his secrets, he had grown comfortable in the peaceful little island town, getting to know its inhabitants and even to consider some of them friends. The eleventh year, however, he arrived to startling news: the island’s peace had been shattered by a murder. At the request of the sheriff, Shawn Parnell, Nicolas agreed to hire Philip Hall, the local blacksmith and the probable next victim, in the hope that the secure construction site would be safer than his house in the village. He never expected the decision to lead to danger. Or to love
I slid into this book very happily because the writing is very nice. Descriptive and sensual (as in of the senses).
There’s a sense of tension in the first chapter, with fog and a dangerous journey along the coast avoiding rocks, and I had great hopes. I particularly liked the cover, too – absolutely no reason in the world why a m/m historical should have anything on it to indicate what it is. I would, as a bit of advice to the publisher and author however, have made the m/m element a little clearer (or indeed clear!) in the blurb, it’s so veiled as to be almost invisible.
On a personal level too, I would have liked a map – this story, set on an unfamiliar (to me) island in the Atlantic – seems to call out for a map. (I like maps…)
Anyway – onward. Overseer Wells arrives on Island, and takes on the task of protecting known sodomite Philip from a man who has murdered his lover and seems likely to be targetting Philip (and maybe others) as punishment for his and their homosexuality. (As an aside, “homosexuality” as a word, didn’t exist in 1880…) And it was here that we ran into the the almost inevitable OKHomo, I’m afraid, most notably because it is actually the town’s sherrif who asks Wells to take Philip into his work-gang because: “he’s done nothing to warrant being locked up”
I’m not an expert in American law, but I’m fairly sure that sodomy would have been illegal in Maine 1880? But the sherrif ignores the law, and the inhabitants of the island (mostly) seem fine and dandy with it, even the rough and tough tradesmen on the building site are with one small exception. Hell, I don’t think Maine is that accepting even today!
That aside, it’s obviously well researched and well written, but I found the opening third quite dull. What bored me was the constant ogling the characters did for chapters on end. I would have actually been just as interested in reading about the building work, as well as the growing attraction between them but instead the main characters stare and ogle and lust after each other in a very angsty way “he’s beautiful, I mustn’t, he might not… I want…” for quite a long time, and it gets very repetitive. There are also repetitive sections in the dialogue too, which should have been edited out – Philip asks Wells if he’s married and how long he’s been the boss of the crewmen and he says no, and ten years – a couple of pages later, Philip asks the same questions to someone else.
However, it does perk up, and what Tachna cleverly does is to set up a kind of Agatha Christie style murder mystery – insular and remote location with a limited cast list – but in order for this to work more effectively she needs suspects and there doesn’t appear to be anyone who isn’t OK with the homo, apart from one very obvious suspect (I’m not spoiling anyone here, it’s pointed out very clearly by the sherrif)
There are inconsistencies in the facts of the cases too, – I won’t go into details but they are little niggles which stand out, especially if one is enjoying the crime elements and trying to solve it.
But I’m being picky, and I’m being picky because this is a nicely written book, one of the better Romances I’ve read that has been written contemporarily and the author clearly has a lot of talent, and I enjoyed reading it despite its flaws. The sex scenes aren’t overdone, and are genuinely erotic rather than porny, although the story as a whole outstayed its welcome after the mystery was solved and could have been wrapped up earlier, dealing with the conflict that happens in the last 3 chapters more within the main body of the story, rather than after the denouement.
If you liked Ruth Sims’ “The Phoenix” you’ll like this too, and I highly recommend it. I certainly will look forward to what Ms Tachna and Dreamspinner continue to create.