Sunday 4 February 2018

#CBR10 Book 7: "The Soldier's Scoundrel" by Cat Sebastian

Page count: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Jack Turner and his siblings grew up in the slums of London and they have all worked hard to get out from under the criminal enterprises of their parents. Jack's sister is a dressmaker, while his brother seems to keep very posh and rarefied company these days. Jack uses some of the skills he's learned over the years to help women in trouble. He can locate stolen items, deal with blackmail claims, even make an unpleasant husband disappear to somewhere far away - his only rule is that the women who hire him not question his methods, and let him deal with the guilty party, without involving the authorities. His services are not available to gentlemen or nobles of any kind.

So when Oliver Rivington, formerly a captain in his Majesty's army, shows up in Jack's offices, convinced that Jack has to be some sort of con artist who has swindled Oliver's sister out of a large sum of money, Jack wants nothing to do with him. He lets Oliver sit in on an interview with a Mrs Wraxhall, who claims she's being blackmailed and needs Jack's help. Still convinced that Jack Turner is a no-good scoundrel, Oliver takes it upon himself to befriend Mr. Wraxhall, to make sure Turner isn't able to take advantage of the couple, but he soon discovers, like Jack, that there is a lot more to Mrs. Wraxhall's dilemma than first meets the eye and while Oliver doesn't initially approve of the man and his methods, he also can't seem to stay away from him. Jack has no intention of getting involved with some pampered nobleman's son, but as they start investigating the case together, neither of them can deny their attraction.

This is Cat Sebastian's debut, and in the last year, I've seen so many positive reviews of this and her follow-up books on a number of websites. While there are quite a few authors out there who write M/M romance now, many of them self-publish. That Ms. Sebastian's books are actually published by Avon intrigued me (even if the covers of the books are usually quite bad) and when I found this and the sequel on sale, I snapped it up immediately. I've only now found the time to read one, and based on this book, I'm glad to have more to look forward to.

Both Jack and Oliver are well-rounded and interesting characters. Oliver has fought all over Europe during the Napoleonic war, and is thoroughly heart-sick of all the violence and deplorable behaviour he's been witness to. He struggles with a painful leg injury, and until he confronts Jack and gets more and more interested in both the man and his investigation, he's not really had a lot to focus on or care about.

Jack shares his office space and private rooms in a building with his sister, whose dressmaker studio seems to be on the ground floor. They share a servant and eat most of their meals together. It's quite clear that his sister cares deeply for Jack, but worries about him, especially his homosexual proclivities. That's one thing Jack and Oliver have in common, despite being different in so many other ways, not just social status. They both have very caring and possibly surprisingly, for the time period, supportive younger sisters, who don't seem to care with whom they fall in love, even when homosexuality among men was still very much illegal (obviously women couldn't be gay - some women just lived their whole lives as spinsters with other spinster companions - nothing strange going on there).

The plot of the book is quite slow, and while there is a mystery to be solved, it unfolds slowly, with Jack and Oliver travelling around the countryside getting more besotted with one another. It almost felt a bit jarring when the danger gets ramped up rather suddenly towards the end of the book, and there are gunshots and wounds to be tended. This is also one of those stories where one party is so very convinced of their unworthiness of the other that they do everything they can to convince their lover that their union is impossible and it takes far longer than should be necessary for them to actually find their HEA at the end.

I still liked the book a lot, and will eagerly be reading more of Ms. Sebastian's novels in the future.

Judging a book by its cover: I agree with Narfna, my book twin on the internet, that Avon just doesn't seem to know what to do when they have to put two men on the cover instead of the standard pairing of a man and a woman. First of all, neither of the cover models look particularly like anyone inside the book (although that's pretty par the course for any romance). Secondly, they both just look so awkward. If I hadn't seen the book and author raved about on a number of romance review sites, it's unlikely I'd have picked it up on my own.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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