Title: Poacher’s Fall (Midwinter Manor #1)
Author: J. L. Merrow
Cover Artist: L.C. Chase
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M historical
Length: Novelette (50 pages)
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: A gentle historical romance crossing the divide of social class.
One snowy night just before Christmas, 1922, poacher Danny Costessy rounds off a night trapping rabbits by climbing a tree to fetch some mistletoe for his mother—only to fall and break his leg. Taken to the manor house to recover from his injuries, Danny meets the reclusive owner, Philip Luccombe. Village gossip has it Luccombe went mad during the war, but Danny soon realizes he’s simply mourning his late lover. As friendship grows between them, Danny starts to fall for handsome, shy Philip.
Danny’s lively nature, roguish good looks, and ready laughter enchant Philip, and he finds himself being drawn out of his shell whether he wills it or not. But when Danny tries to move beyond friendship, Philip panics—and his rejection threatens not only their happiness, but Danny’s health.
It’s Christmas, and 18-year-old Danny has just bagged some rabbits on the Luccombe estate. He decides to climb up the old oak tree and gather some mistletoe, but slips and falls, breaking his leg, cracking some ribs, and getting an almighty bang on the head. Fortunately he’s discovered in the snow by the gamekeeper Drayton, an old foe of his family, and he’s carried into the manor house. After a lifetime of living and poaching off Luccombe land, being cared for by the landowner himself, Philip Luccombe, seems too good to be true. But Danny is never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and though rumour has it that Philip is mad, Danny actually finds Philip to be quiet, shy, and trapped in mourning for someone long gone.
When he was younger, Philip had a secret crush on Danny’s father without realising what it meant. At university he’d confessed his ‘unnatural’ feelings to his best friend, Robert, who cheerfully admitted that he was just as unnatural, so they might as well be unnatural together. The ease of their relationship lasted throughout the Great War, and although Philip was wounded and invalided out, Robert survived unscathed—only to die in the influenza epidemic. For four years Philip has carried the memory of his lost lover, but Danny’s sudden appearance in his life forces him to acknowledge that he is still a man and he can still feel passion—if only he can trust himself to accept the love Danny offers.
Poacher’s Fall is a lovely, gentle read with two sympathetic heroes. Danny is especially charming, and the scenes told in his voice really bounce along and demonstrate his youth and exuberance. His father’s death has left him the head of his family at a young age, and he takes this responsibility seriously—yet though he worries, he’s not weighted down by the commitment.
This stands in contrast to Philip, who has no immediate family and only the manor and its land to care for. His lack of family and companionship during his time of mourning has made him inward-looking, and though the manor’s servants are fiercely loyal and protective of him (I loved Mr and Mrs Standish), a servant isn’t a ‘proper’ companion and confidant.
Danny opens Philip’s eyes to new possibilities, but the learning process goes both ways. Both men make blunders over the difference in their social class, but both are forgiving and both, in their own way, are easy and comfortable within themselves. Neither of them expected the attraction or the friendship, which makes this such a nice journey of discovery for them both.
I also liked the use of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and one of Andrew Marvell’s poems to emphasise certain themes within the book, especially the Dickens, which brings the two men closer together across the social divide. Plus I enjoyed the age gap (Philip is 31 to Danny’s 18), which seems less than it is because Danny has been the man of the family for some time, but on occasions it becomes more apparent and adds to Philip’s confusion as they start to fall for one another.
It’s a sweet and gentle story and sets things up nicely for the sequel, Keeper’s Pledge, which I’ll be reviewing next time.