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Sunday, 9 December 2018

‘Lessons in Temptation’ By Charlie Cochrane

Published Independently,
28 March 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-98067952-3

Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith are spending a few weeks in Bath before going on holiday to France. Orlando has to consider some old books on mathematics that are for sale and decide whether to purchase them for St Brides, the Cambridge College where he teaches mathematics and Jonty teaches English Literature. Jonty is also busy, attempting to complete his book on Shakespeare’s sonnets. However, Jonty is soon distracted when he discovers that an open-air, all-male production of Macbeth is to be staged near Bath. He is surprised, and at first pleased, when the director turns out to be an actor friend from his time in London. Jimmy Harding had always been attractive but now he is gorgeous and he makes it clear that he wants Jonty to be more than just a friend. Jonty loves Orlando but he has to struggle against the temptation to succumb to Harding’s lures, while Orlando fights against the demons of jealousy that torture him.

Despite their good intentions to concentrate on their work, Jonty and Orlando are tempted to expend their energies on detection when they discover that their fame as investigators has preceded them. They visit Dr Buckner’s House of Sulis, therapeutic Baths that are strictly only for gentlemen, and Dr Buckner asks them to investigate a death that had occurred in the Baths twenty-five years before, which had haunted Buckner’s father for the rest of his life. When the older Dr Buckner was abroad, he had left administration of the House of Sulis to a man who proved unworthy of his trust. This man had allowed wild parties to take place in the House of Sulis, with men bringing ‘ladies of the night’ to join in their debauchery. Dr Buckner returned unexpectedly and discovered one such party. He threw all of the revellers out and it was only later that the body of one of the young women was discovered in a side room. Because of the eminence and influence of the men involved and the unimportance of a young prostitute, the investigation into Sarah Carter’s death was perfunctory and it was declared to be from natural causes. The older Dr Buckner was intent on restoring the reputation of the House of Sulis and did not speak out about his conviction that Sarah Carter had been strangled. He regretted his silence until his dying day and now, out of respect for his father’s memory, his son wishes Jonty and Orlando to discover the truth about Sarah’s death.

Jonty and Orlando pursue their investigation by questioning the men who were present at the House of Sulis on the fatal night and, at a very different level of society, the few people they can trace who knew Sarah Carter or worked alongside her. It soon becomes clear that somebody remembers Sarah with either affection or guilt, because that person leaves expensive hot-house flowers on her grave. This is a true ‘cold case’ as there is no evidence that the killer has murdered again and there is little danger to the sleuths in pursuing their investigation, however Jonty and Orlando soon discover that truth and justice always come with a high price.

The Cambridge Fellows Mysteries have just been republished and Lessons in Temptation is the fifth in the series. It is a skilful blend of detection and love story, with excellent period detail and some fascinating insights into life during the Edwardian era. It explores the joys of Jonty and Orlando’s love but also the dangers and dilemmas of maintaining a relationship that could lead to disgrace, dismissal and a term in prison doing hard labour. Above all the Cambridge Fellows books possess two engaging protagonists, whom it is impossible not to like. It is a very enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team— so she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries.  A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and International Thriller Writers Inc, Charlie's Cambridge Fellows Series, set in Edwardian England, was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats, the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book Strangers and Angels published 28 November 2017 is set in Victorian England.  Also published in 2017 is her fourth novel in her scene of Crimes Series Karma and the Singing Frogs.  

To to read a review of Karma and the Singing Frogs, click on the title

‘Deli Meat’ by Tom Halford

Published by Crooked Cat Books,
24 July 2018.

The skimpy blurb about Tom Halford—Deli Meat is his debut novel—doesn’t mention that his favourite television programme is Twin Peaks, although I’m willing to bet it is. David Lynch’s sense of the bizarre pervades this book like an old London pea-souper. Saint John in the Canadian province of New Brunswick may be a real place, despite its Reversing Falls, but the author imbues it with an off-kilter opaqueness that makes it seem as far-off as Narnia. Likewise, the seemingly dull Plattsburgh on the shores of Lake Champlain, home to the Nessie-like ‘Champy’ and a place where some Very Strange Things happen.

Ostensibly this is the story of the bilingual, possibly bisexual, Effie (certainly gender fluid: as a child she sported a haircut like James Garner) who begins the book busily searching for her lost husband Gilbert. A white-collar hippy, he was last seen heading to Montreal for his brother’s bachelor party. She reads the Bible for the violent bits, says “effing” a lot, appropriately, and doesn’t trust the police. She also enjoys watching a TV series called Cozy Village in which Ms Coriander, an elderly sleuth, murders one person and frames their friend for it. In every episode. This may (or may not) have some bearing on the plot, which could reasonably be described as picaresque.

We also have the mixed-up waiter Conrad, his bald brother Todd who waxes lyrical about artisanal meat every chance he gets, the infuriatingly polite detective Dick Buck, and the coquettish Wanda Tugger, a name to conjure with.

The driving force of the story is the unexplained abductions of various innocent people from parking lots over a period of several years, often in broad daylight. This might, or might not, be linked with the rise of a fairly secret organisation called the Pure White Hand. What’s certain is that Effie’s search for her husband takes an unexpected turn and it’s very hard to predict what might happen next.

Tom Halford has created his very own twisted alternative universe where nothing is quite as it should be. I’ve heard people call this an ‘anti-crime’ story, whatever that is, but at any rate this is funny and readable and only occasionally too self-consciously strange for its own good. Getting to the resolution is a bit like a queasy drunk reeling for the exit: you’ll get there eventually, but you might not be sure how.
Reviewer: Mark Campbell

Tom Halford is a writer, and teacher. One of Tom’s favourite things in the world is a delicious sandwich. This might sound crazy, but the inspiration behind Deli Meat is Tom’s love of the sub, the hero, the hoagie, the grinder, the classic lunch time meal, the sandwich. Tom lives in Newfoundland with his wife and two children.

Mark Campbell has written pocket guides to Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Carry On Films and Doctor Who, and was theatre critic for the Kentish Times. He currently works in The Stamp Centre in London and lives on a very noisy road in Greenwich. He has directed and appeared in many amateur theatre productions and enjoys collecting British humour comics from the 1970s. His favourite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey and his favourite book is The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.