Review: Lessons in Discovery by Charlie Cochrane

Orlando’s broken memory may break his lover’s heart.

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 3

Cambridge, 1906.

On the very day Jonty Stewart proposes that he and Orlando Coppersmith move in together, Fate trips them up. Rather, it trips Orlando, sending him down a flight of stairs and leaving him with an injury that erases his memory. Instead of taking the next step in their relationship, they’re back to square one. It’s bad enough that Orlando doesn’t remember being intimate with Jonty–he doesn’t remember Jonty at all.

Review by Leslie H. Nicoll

Lessons in Discovery is the third book in the Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane. In the first book, Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith meet and fall in love; in the second, they go on holiday together; and in this one, Orlando falls down the stairs and conks his head. As a result, he becomes amnesic and totally loses his memories of the past year, most notably his friendship with and love for Jonty. Also in this book, just as in the prior two, Jonty and Orlando put on their detective caps and solve a mystery. The combination of the sweet affection and a mystery works well for this series and makes the books very entertaining and enjoyable as quick, easy reads.

While I have been thoroughly entertained by all three books, if I had to rate them as to my favorites, Lessons in Discovery would be at the top of the list, which surprised me. I’ll be honest – I enjoyed book number two (Lessons in Desire) but it had moments where it was a little too sweet and slightly over the top, at least for me. I worried that if Cochrane kept on this trajectory, with the plot of Orlando losing his memory, Lessons in Discovery had the potential to veer either into the realm of completely saccharine or totally maudlin. Fortunately, my fears were baseless.

Orlando does lose his memory, yes, but what he doesn’t lose is the maturity and insight into his own personality that he has acquired through his friendship and love for Jonty. As a result, his re-discovery of himself is very compelling. I’ve occasionally thought of Orlando as “a lovable goof,” which is endearing, but sometimes seemed at odds with his keen intelligence and analytical mind. In this story, he has grown up and he realizes it. He is able to reflect on issues of friendship, loyalty, sexual awareness, and his own repressive childhood with new eyes and new emotions. I’ve always liked Jonty as a character but by the end of this book, I really, really liked Orlando which speaks to just how well characterized he was through Cochrane’s deft writing.

Jonty and Orlando re-establish their relationship (I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying that, since there are four more books planned in the series) but they also create a network of family and friends who understand about their “secret.” Personally, I think this is realistic. Even though, throughout history, many gay people were persecuted and imprisoned because of their sexuality, I think that there were many who were able to live normal lives without the condemnation of society. My reasons why Oscar Wilde couldn’t, and Jonty and Orlando can, are more than I want to get into in this review. Rather, my point is that Cochrane has set herself up very well for the future books. Jonty and Orlando turned the corner in this book and became rich, well-developed, three dimensional characters and I look forward to reading more about them as they live their lives together.

I also think the mystery in this story is the best of the three. Orlando is tasked with solving a 400 year old historical puzzle which, of course, is very well suited to his mathematical abilities. If another contemporary murder had happened under Jonty’s and Orlando’s noses, as did in each of the previous two books, I think that would have stretched the bounds of plausibility. On top of that, the mystery itself was intriguing and very cleverly written and had lots of interesting tidbits of English history.

I particularly enjoy Cochrane’s writing style which reminds me classic English mysteries such as those by Agatha Christie. She has lots of funny expressions and clever turns of phrase which sound very British and very “I say old chap” –at least to this American reader.

All in all, this is a lovely series of books: charming and tender, full of loving affection between the two main characters. I highly recommend them.

NB: Lessons in Discovery has recently been re-released by Samhain Publishing. I had read the earlier Linden Bay version and read the new Samhain version for this review and I didn’t really see any major differences between the two, aside from the new cover. In an email message, the author confirmed that this was correct: except for correcting a few minor typos, the books are essentially the same.

Buy the ebook from Amazon or through the Samhain’s website.  A print version is scheduled for publication in 2010.

8 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for the review, Leslie. I think this is the best book of the three, for all the reasons you name, and one you don’t – I was getting the hang of things by then!

    And I’m glad you like my funny turns of phrase.

    Charlie

  2. As much as I love my Kindle, one thing it is not good for is flipping through the pages — since there aren’t any pages for flipping! So, it makes it harder to scan/browse after the fact and find quotes or phrases for a review. But, the bonus for the reader is that s/he will get to discover them all on his/her own :-) .

    L

  3. I just stumbled on to the whole m/m genre this past summer, and am still not sure if, as a gay man, I’m even supposed to be reading these books. :) (Are they written by women for women only?)

    Charlie Cochrane’s “Lessons” were the first ones I read. I must like these books enough, because I have read all of them now. I like Cochrane’s writing and find all the characters believable and well drawn for the most part. However, there are two things that I don’t find believable, and that always make me think “Yeah, a woman wrote this.” One is the overly romantic nature of Jonty’s and Orlando’s relationship. Men, even gay men, aren’t so inclined to be professing how much they love each other, at least not in such flowery terms. The other thing is the actual sex scenes between them. I know that gay sex (probably all forms of sexual intercourse) was different in the past in terms of the actual sex acts that people engaged in, but the attention that Jonty and Orlando spend on one another’s necks and ears and elbows and lower backs doesn’t ring true. I think men, even historically, are a little more primal and animalistic than that. We like foreplay, but we do tend to get down to the nitty-gritty pretty quickly. Oh yeah, and the giggling. The giggling I really don’t like! Guys don’t really giggle that much.

    Again, I obviously like these books as I keep reading them, and I do think that Charlie is getting better with each book.

    I don’t know if my criticisms/opinions are valid, though. If the intended audience of the m/m genre is really women, then perhaps I have no room to kvetch. The books aren’t written for me.

    I’ll probably keep reading anyway, as I love gay historicals and there aren’t too many around.

  4. Carl

    Thanks for this comment – it got me thinking. I can assure you that gay men are allowed to read this genre – and do! (I’m not alone in getting nice e-mails from gay men who are fans.)

    I didn’t write these books with women in mind; I got heavily inspired (primarily by a book called Death at the President’s Lodging) to relate a story of amateur male detectives within an old Cambridge college who just happened to be gay. The intended audience was initally me (yes, I’m female but actually my tastes are much more ‘male’ than the average girl, hence all the hidden and overt sporting references). I just wanted to tell a story – the fact that they’ve ended up published is a bonus.

    The giggling? Perhaps giggling is the wrong word and I should call it chuckling. It’s whatever Ally McCoist and Matt Dawson and Tuffers and various captains on A Question of Sport have done, when they can’t seem to resist laughing. Not manly guffaws, either, even though they’re manly men (does this make any sense to anyone but me?)

    As to the foreplay, chacun a son gout. I see Jonty and Orlando as having a tendency to take things slowly because of where they’ve come from, emotionally. Both are scarred, both have been scared. That’s not to say they don’t have a quick rough and tumble when the opportunity presents itself, but it’s the longer delights which I like to focus on in the books.

    The only thing I’ll actually take issue with you on is the flowery language. Men don’t express their affection for each other in flowery terms? “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is at least one line which springs to mind!

    Fond regards

    Charlie

    • Hi Charlie,

      I wasn’t sure anyone would actually ever read my comments, let alone you! Yikes! :)

      Giggling = chuckling! Got it! That works for me. Thanks for the explanation, as I now see what you’re going for with the “giggling.” I guess it’s just my associations with the word – in my mind, I see middle school girls.

      Okay, I can see what you mean about them taking it slowly sexually because of where they’ve come from. And yes, to each his own.

      Shakespeare – touche.

      In re-reading my previous comments, they sound more negative than I actually feel about the books. I apologize for that. As I said, I have read them all, and will read more in the series.

      Thank you for welcoming me to the genre, as it were. :) I’d also just like to say that I’m an English major who has had aspirations to write since I was young, and never have, so I doff my hat and offer you my greatest respect for having the guts and the discipline to actually sit down and do it, and how wonderful that you are now a published author.

      It’s so easy to criticize. What is that saying about critics? They are all just frustrated performers, or something like that. So brava to you, and I will definitely keep reading your work. And I will try to offer positive, constructive remarks in the future.

      • Carl

        I didn’t find your comments negative at all. They made me think, which is always a good thing.

        English major? Then I doff my hat to you, being a mere biologist (and that explains why there are so many references to obscure animals in the books).

        BTW Your remarks are highly constructive – am working on book 7 and replacing the giggles with chuckles.

        Charlie

  5. Hi Charlie,

    That was fast!

    I’m glad to know you weren’t offended by my comments.

    I’ll look for book 7.

    Warm Regards,
    Carl

    • Only fast because I’d subscribed to be notified of comments on reviews of my books. (Sad, isn’t it?) And replying to you was more fun than trying to get Jonty and Orlando to behave.

      Charlie

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