When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.
Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.
Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...
I read this book immediately after A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. The two fit together nicely because they share the theme of sexual abuse/exploitation of teenage boys due to poverty.
Gil is a bastard child of a rich family. When his father died, his older half-brother cut off his education and funds. In order to survive he was a prostitute. Now he runs a bookstore that sells pornography, which is illegal.
Vikram is a lawyer who takes some pro bono cases in London’s Indian community. He knew Gil at school where they bonded over being the only dark-skinned people. He has always wondered what happened to his friend when he suddenly left school but no one would answer his questions. Vikram is investigating the disappearance of an Indian teen who worked as a prostitute. The only clue is a studio photo that the boy’s parents had. There is no way he could afford to have bought it. Vikram guesses he may have been modeling for erotic photographers and was given the formal portrait as partial payment.
There is a bit of over the top serendipity in the main characters meeting. It is like, “I’m searching for this lost boy because it reminds me of my former best friend who went missing. I’ll go to this bookstore. Oh, look! There is my missing best friend. Imagine that!”
Vikram wants to renew his friendship with Gil but has a very hard time accepting the world Gil lives in. He is uncomfortable with the life his friend was forced to lead while he continued his comfortable life in school and university. Gil is cynical about Vikram’s desire to help people because in his life he hasn’t seen many people with that motivation.
This is a novella but there is a good amount of character growth in it. It was interesting to find out all about the Victorian pornography trade. I haven’t seen that as a basis for a romance before.
Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship...
Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding... it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.
Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.
This book was so good. Clem runs a boarding house that his half brother owns. He was born after an Earl raped an Indian nanny who accompanied his brother’s family home to England. Clem is seen as an embarrassment to his snobbish family and this is a way of keeping him out of sight. The only condition of his employment is that he has to keep a drunken ex-vicar in the house no matter what. Clem is a methodical person who needs to do one thing at a time. Other people think that he is slow and clumsy because he gets flustered with too much stimuli.
Rowley is a taxidermist who takes lodgings at the house after setting up shop next door. He prefers to be alone and can’t handle other people’s anger well after surviving an abusive childhood. His quietness settles Clem. The two of them gradually find enjoyment in each other’s company. They have a nightly cup of tea together. They are just starting to acknowledge feelings for each other when there is a robbery attempt and then a murder.
This is when homosexuality was still banned in England. There is a pub called the Jack and Knave that Clem frequents. It is open only to approved people brought by known clients. Inside the Jack, gay men and women are free to socialize openly. Many of the characters in this series are regulars there.
This book does a very good job on the romance portion of the book. There is sexual activity but it is loving and in context of a relationship. A mystery is introduced in this book but is not fully resolved until the series is over. It involves Clem’s half-brother and then inheritance of the earldom.
An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities, #2)by K.J. Charles Pages: 250
In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.
Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.
Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.
But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.
Nathaniel is a regular at the Jack and Knave who is still grieving his partner’s death five years ago. He is a journalist and is assigned to debunk a medium. He starts his investigation with Justin Lazarus and finds himself intrigued. Nathaniel is surprised when investigating Clem’s mystery also leads him back to Justin who met one of the players in the saga one year ago. This is not a slow burn romance like the first book. This is hate/lust leading to sex leading to regret/embarrassment. Then they are forced back together and over time a relationship builds.
Justin had a rough upbringing and has major trust issues. He doesn’t feel bad at all about fleecing the rich and gullible. Nathaniel is firmly on the side of living a moral life and not hurting anyone. He has a hard time accepting the good in anyone in a dishonest profession. Nathaniel is also uncomfortable moving on and feeling attracted to another man for the first time. He especially doesn’t want to fall for someone so unlike his beloved partner. The book talks about how difficult it was grieve when no one in the outside world knew of the love between the men.
The mystery continues to be resolved. In each book a little bit is solved so it doesn’t feel like you are missing a conclusion even if you don’t have the whole picture yet.
On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.
Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.
But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.
In this final book of the series, detective Mark finds the lost heir to the Earldom. He is a trapeze artist performing with his twin sister. Most people would jump at the chance to go from music hall performer to aristocrat but Pen Starling wants nothing to do with it. He is genderfluid and comfortable living in a world where he is able to dress in a costume that fits how he feels on each day. If he becomes an Earl, he would be forced to live as a man full time. As he says, if he had been raised to be an Earl he might have been able to pass himself off as an eccentric recluse but as a former commoner he would be watched. Information is given about court cases of the time regarding transgender people.
Mark is a Polish immigrant. He was born with one arm. He makes his way confidently through a world that makes no accommodations for people with disabilities. He is pansexual and has previously had relationships with both men and women. He embraces Pen’s genderfluidity as a wonderful aspect of him.
This is my favorite of the books. I loved Mark and Pen’s relationship. The resolution of the mystery was unexpected and very satisfying to all parties involved. I will definitely read this author again.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: