I need to preface this review by saying this was my first foray into an audible book. Audible was offering a free trial month with two books, so I decided to give it a shot and picked out this book along with the next one in the series. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the experience, as I don’t have a long commute and I mostly prefer to read actual books as opposed to Kindle – but it was quite entertaining and it didn’t take long to finish it listening in bits and pieces. I really didn’t expect it to be as entertaining, but with the narrator doing different voices for the characters there was an added element to the tale. And this being a M/M romance by KJ Charles there are also a lot of sexy bits that took on a new dimension in listening to them.
This book is the first in the Sins of the City trilogy, set in the late Victorian era. Ms Charles has indicated that she took many elements of the pulp fiction of the time for this series – using plots full of twists and turns, scandals, secrets and family shenanigans. All this mixed, of course, with her steamy encounters between the two main characters. At the start of the book, we meet Clem Tallyfer, who is an Anglo-Indian running a boarding house in Clerkenwell for his brother. He does his best to run a good establishment; he’s quiet and kind, rather unassuming and just wants life to be trouble-free. Unfortunately, one of the tenants, Reverend Lugtrout, is a drunk and a bother but Clem is unable to evict him based on orders from his brother to let the man stay rent free for as long as he wishes. Clem’s job is dependent on this ruling, so he has no choice but to put up with the man.
One of the other lodgers is Rowley Green, who owns the shop next to the house. He is a preserver, what is now known as a taxidermist. He’s also a quiet man, who has mostly kept to himself since moving in. However, he and Clem have made a habit of taking tea in the evenings, and there has been some unspoken attraction between them though neither is sure of the other’s sexual leanings. They have formed a strong friendship and Rowley understands that Clem in ways that few people do. Clem doesn’t do well in crowds and loud noise, tends to stutter around his brother, and feels clumsy and stupid even though he isn’t. For his part, Rowley is a bit tougher, coming from a rough childhood but Clem sees him as strong and confident. Their friendship slowly merges into a physical relationship which is more than either of them expects.
Then Reverend Lugtrout is found dead, obviously tortured, and Clem and Rowley find themselves in the thick of things. Clem’s brother is not happy about this either, but it’s not clear yet why or how it fits together. As they try to figure out what was behind the death, they turn for help to some friends from the Jack and Knave – a club for gay men of the time; Nathanial and Mark are two that will be featured in the other books in the trilogy. Family secrets will be unearthed, and Clem and Rowley have to work through how it affects them and their future together.
Overall, I enjoyed this book – both for the content, and the narration which was well done and made it easy to distinguish characters. Ms Charles did a wonderful job of portraying the Victorian era with her descriptive depictions of the gloomy streets and foggy atmosphere. And unlike many historical romances, the focus is on men who aren’t titled or fabulously wealthy; there’s also ethnic diversity, which you don’t see much of either. While I will always have a soft spot for Lord Crane from The Magpie Lord series, the gentlemen here are just as intriguing in their own way. As for the ending, it doesn’t wrap up everything neatly as the plot carries on through the trilogy, so be warned if that doesn’t interest you.