Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 1
St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, England, 1905.
When Jonty Stewart takes up a teaching post at the college where he studied, the handsome and outgoing young man acts as a catalyst for change within the archaic institution. He also has a catalytic effect on Orlando Coppersmith.Orlando is a brilliant, introverted mathematician with very little experience of life outside the college walls. He strikes up an alliance with the outgoing Jonty, and soon finds himself having feelings he’s never experienced before.
Before long their friendship blossoms into more than either man had hoped and they enter into a clandestine relationship.Their romance is complicated when a series of murders is discovered within St. Bride’s. All of the victims have one thing in common, a penchant for men. While acting as the eyes and ears for the police, a mixture of logic and luck leads them to a confrontation with the murderer—can they survive it?
Review by E Louise van Hine
Orlando Coppersmith, despite the Shakespearean name, is the most unremarkable of creatures – a professor of mathematics at St. Bride’s College, and a fellow of Cambridge. Shy, quiet, and unobtrusive, he spends his evenings at high table in wordless company with his fellow dons, and for years he goes virtually unnoticed and invisible, retiring after his meals in his lonely rooms, kept company with his books, never venturing beyond the gate of the college to the pub in town or share a game of whist. At least not until the new arrival, an English fellow, serendipitously occupies his dinner seat, and Coppersmith is forced to exercise his decidedly rusty social skills with the chatty newcomer.
What proceeds is a slowly-developing but undeniable attraction between two opposites – the outgoing and popular Jonathan “Jonty” Stewart, an alumnus who returns to his alma mater to introduce a new generation to the delights of Shakespeare, and the retiring maths scholar who gradually realizes that the precious friend he has discovered holds the key to his heart. Their gentle and fumbling exploration of their developing love for one another, however, is complicated by a murder at the college – and the police turn to Stewart and Coppersmith when the few clues they find lead nowhere.
This is how “Lessons in Love,” a Cambridge Fellows Mystery, by Charlie Cochrane. The story offers equal portions of romance and mystery, which, while the romance seems slow in coming, does not drag. One of the arguments I have with so many erotic stories is how quickly the sexual relationship develops – even when the historical setting makes such a relationship forbidden by law or punishable by death. But “Lessons in Love” does not have this flaw, thank goodness – the pace of the reluctant attraction fits the retiring personality of Orlando, particularly well. The story takes place just past the turn of the 20th century, where homosexual affairs were not as severe a crime as in earlier centuries. In addition to the pacing, the prose narrative sometimes breathtakingly sweet, the love scenes are original and mildly humorous (one of my favorite descriptions was the description of Orlando’s erection as “peninsular.”)
Charlie Cochrane knows her way around a first encounter, and the subsequent “lessons” are just as well written. I particularly enjoyed some of the moments of jealous confrontation and the moody atmosphere of the college, which really brought the era clearly to my mind’s eye.
Less well drawn, however, are the other Fellows and the students, particularly those that Stewart and Coppersmith assign themselves to investigate as they help the police solve the mystery that unfolds between the episodes of romantic exploration. Even with their colorful names – we needed more, either in dialogue or description, to be able to tell them apart before the next twist in the plot. I found myself mixing them up.
Another problematic point was the mystery itself, which, considering the circumstances of Lord Morcar’s death, would logically have had a devastating and dampening effect upon particularly Orlando’s romantic feelings toward Jonty – and yet, with a killer on the loose and most likely lurking within the walls of the college, they take chances that seem logically inconsistent with the threat they face. This inconsistency did mar the plot for me somewhat, and I found myself wishing that this story was written in two books – the first a romance, and the second, a mystery that unfolds once the romance is established. This did not dampen my enthusiasm for getting to the solution, or finding out how the star-crossed Fellows would fare with one another once the strangler is captured.
The book contained the first chapter of the sequel, and I am looking forward with anticipation to the next story, Lessons in Desire.