He thinks he has everything. Until someone tries to steal it.
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 5
For friends and lovers Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart, a visit to Bath starts out full of promise. While Orlando assesses the value of some old manuscripts, Jonty plans to finish his book of sonnets. Nothing exciting…until they are asked to investigate the mysterious death of a prostitute.
Then Orlando discovers that the famous curse of Macbeth extends far beyond the stage. It’s bad enough that Jonty gets drawn into a local theatre’s rehearsals of the play. The producer is none other than Jimmy Harding, a friend from Jonty’s university days who clearly finds his old pal irresistible. Worse, Jimmy makes sure Orlando knows it, posing the greatest threat so far to their happiness.
With Jonty involved in the play, Orlando must do his sleuthing alone. Meanwhile, Jonty finds himself sorely tempted by Jimmy’s undeniable allure. Even if Orlando solves the murder, his only reward could be burying his and Jonty’s love in an early grave…
Review by Erastes
I think I’m going to have to either go round to Charlie Cochrane’s house and stop her from writing anything else, or stop reviewing her books on the site because it’s becoming embarrassing as to how much we all like them. I even get different reviewers to review them, but it makes no difference. We all love ‘em, and that’s no exception with this book.
First of all, let me advise you that, as the blurb hints, these books are part of a series. (I’ve even made a category now, to make them easier to find.) However, they are so skilfully written that they can easily be read as a standalone, and Cochrane manages this (somehow) without any infodumping and pages of “this is what happened in previous books.” There is enough information, woven in with a deft hand, to tell you who these guys are, what they do, a touch of their previous adventures and that’s it. And that’s excellent, because they are only 100 pages or so, so the last thing you need is 20 pages of info thrown at you.
That being said, despite the fact that they can be read as standalones, you’ll be depriving yourself if you read them out of turn, or only read one in the series. There’s an over-reaching arc to the series, and with a romance, that’s a difficult thing to achieve. After the happy ending of the first book you’d think that there would be nothing else to tell about the characters. Well, you’d be wrong. So wrong.
Cochrane must have had the same grandmother as mine, (“keep some mystery, dear!”) or be related to Gypsy Rose Lee or something because she knows just how to string her readers along, and each book–like the best burlesque dancer–reveals a little more about these characters, a little more of their backstory–sometimes to their own detriment. What’s great about Jonty and Orlando is that, despite being deliciously affectionate with each other and really and truly soul-mates, something you never doubt–they are both rather flawed young men. Part of this comes from their pasts, both have a little darkness they are fighting with, and part of this comes from the necessary unworldliness (Orlando more so than Jonty, but all academics have a particular oddness) that living in a secluded community like a Cambridge College will bring.
The books could easily be a mish mash of schmoop and sentiment, as the men are delightfully sweet with each other (when all is going well and they are in private) but there’s always a tinge of that dark hiding behind them. Orlando is racked with guilt that he hasn’t been able to help Jonty deal with the terrors of his school years, and Jonty’s incandescent temper often threatens the subtle thread between them. And they never let their guard down, always aware of what discovery of their love would mean.
Ok – so on with this book specifically. Straight away we are led into Jonty and Orlando’s world. This time they are working away on location in Bath. What I love about Cochrane’s work is that she uses locations that she knows and loves. Places she’s been regularly–like Jersey in Lessons in Desire–and can describe in all weathers and moods. Bath is a Regency staple, of course, but it was nice to see it 100 years later, and see the differences.
As the title implies, there’s temptation on the menu in the form of the deliciously handsome bundle of gorgeousness, Jimmy Harding. An American who has an earlier friendship with Jonty. Orlando hates him at first sight, which causes friction, but then Jimmy makes it more than clear to Orlando that he’s going to make a direct play for Jonty and the sparks begin to fly. You don’t come to the Cambridge Fellow’s books for the sex, by the way, the love scenes are veiled and shrouded in imagery, but none the less emotive for that. The themes of love vs sex and loyalty vs temptation are well explored too; there were times I wanted to kill Jonty, I have to say.
This alone would be more than enough plot for most people, particularly in a novella of this size, but Cochrane isn’t that complacent. Her guys are detectives and so not only do they have to cope with the danger of Jimmy Harding, but to solve the 25 year old murder of a prostitue that seemingly no-one or everyone about. The mystery is a good “cold case” with no-one being entirely truthful or complete in their information with the two detectives, red herrings and blind alleys galore, which should satisfy the lovers of the genre. If I have one niggle in this respect it’s simply my doubt that any prostitute would turn down any offer of marriage to a wealthy and respectable man on the chance that she might land another.
Cochrane’s writing style is subtly omniscient at times, which I happen to like a lot, but it may not appeal to those who prefer a tight third person point of view which never veers from one person at a time. I think it suits the tone and the setting of the books, however.
Highly recommended and I look forward to the next book enormously. I just need to find another reviewer–however if the standard continues this high, I’m sure they’ll love number six in the series as much as I loved one to five.
This being published by Samhain, the ebook is available now, with a wait of around a year for the print edition.