Rating: 5 stars
CBR14 Bingo: Scandal (the book features corruption, blackmail, kidnapping, and murder - not to mention gay people in the 1920s. Gasp!)
Spoiler warning! This is the third book in a trilogy. While you can absolutely read this book without the others, you will not get all the beautiful payoff from various earlier storylines that way. Also, this review will contain mild spoilers for earlier in the series. Start with Slippery Creatures.
For the last few months, Lord Arthur "Kim" Secretan and Will Darling have actually been a couple, and nothing bad or dangerous has threatened them in any way. Kim has been helping Will get his bookshop in order, and seems to enjoy finding book treasures at estate sales, but it's clear that a part of him misses his cloak-and-dagger duties for the special service, and he still feels very guilty about how his engagement to Lady Phoebe dissolved. Obviously not because of anything romantic, but because revealing her father's crimes to the world and his subsequent death threw Phoebe's life into chaos. Off in Paris, launching Will's best friend Maisie's fashion line seems to be keeping her both happy and busy, though.
The peace was unlikely to last long, and when there's a brutal murder at Kim's former gentleman's club and it seems like Kim's older brother is the murderer, Kim feels obligated to try to clear his name. Kim would happily see his odious brute of an older brother hang, but if he dies, Kim would become his father's heir, and that's a fate so loathsome that he'd rather try to investigate and hopefully get his brother exonerated, even if it means having to spend time with his estranged brother and father. Obviously, the more time they spend among Kim's upper-class peers, the more out of place Will feels. Already insecure about their class differences, the murder investigation and its potential outcomes place a lot of strain on Kim and Will's relationship. Can they actually have a future together, when they come from such different worlds?
Obviously, in romances, there's supposed to be a HEA (happily ever after), yet because this is a trilogy, the previous two books in the series were more of a HFN (happy for now) conclusion. In this book, however, despite their increasingly challenging odds, Kim and Will actually get their happy ending. There's a lot of drama, intrigue, danger and near-death experiences before they get there though.
Having now read the entire trilogy, I can fully admire how K.J. Charles has structured the story. In this final volume, so many of the plot strands left dangling are nicely tied off, and pretty much everything gets a satisfying conclusion eventually. Will obviously has no family left, his "family" such as it is consists of Kim and Maisie. Maisie is off in Paris becoming a famous fashion designer (but you can bet she and Lady Phoebe turn up when she hears of the difficulties Will and Kim are caught up in), but there have been ample hints about Kim's remaining family throughout the series. His younger brother obviously died on the battlefield during World War I, but his older brother Chingford is still very much alive and entirely oblivious to his privilege. In fact, he seems infuriated that anyone has dared accused him of a crime and has no intention of explaining himself or telling the truth about his connection to the dead man, making it seem even more likely that he's guilty. Kim's father is also an upper-class monster, although a smidge more sympathetic than his son and heir. It's very obvious why Kim has done his best to distance himself from them entirely.
While there are a lot of uncertainties, at least on Will's side, about the future of their relationship, this book is also by far the most romantic of the trilogy. Will may be a bit intimidated by his feelings toward Kim, but the reverse is not the case. Kim loves Will and wants them to build a future together, which is why he needs to make sure he will never end up taking over his father's title and position. He may have been on the shifty and unreliable side earlier in the series, but in this story, he knows what he wants and he's not going to consider a life without Will. I was also very happy that while Maisie and Phoebe were off in France at the start of the book, they return and play a central part in the plot as well, as I love those ladies. If Charles wants to write a book about their future adventures, launching Maisie's career in Paris, I will happily buy and read the book.
I suspect, based on how much I loved this book, that I will enjoy the earlier book in the trilogy more as well. I've clearly been sleeping on Charles' authorship, despite having bought a bunch of them over the years. At least this means I can read more whenever I find the time.
Judging a book by its cover: I keep getting distracted by the sideburns on the left-hand character, whom I assume is supposed to be Kim. Nice to see that the right-hand character, presumably Will, still has his trusty knife.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
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