Title: Lessons in Power (Cambridge Fellows #4)
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Historical (early 1900s) Murder Mystery
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
The ghosts of the past will shape your future. Unless you fight them.
After settling in their new home, Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart are looking forward to nothing more exciting than teaching their students and playing rugby. Their plans change when a friend asks their help to clear an old flame who stands accused of murder.
Doing the right thing means Jonty and Orlando must leave the sheltering walls of St. Bride’s to enter a labyrinth of suspects and suspicions, lies and anguish.
Their investigation raises ghosts from Jonty’s past when the murder victim turns out to be one of the men who sexually abused him at school. The trauma forces Jonty to withdraw behind a wall of painful memories. And Orlando fears he may forever lose the intimacy of his best friend and lover.
When another one of Jonty’s abusers is found dead, police suspicion falls on the Cambridge fellows themselves. Finding this murderer becomes a race to solve the crime…before it destroys Jonty’s fragile state of mind.
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries
Lessons in Power is book four of Charlie Cochrane’s fabulous Cambridge Fellows Mystery series. Although some series books can be read as standalones, I would say that is not advisable here as there is a lot of emotion and experience built upon and referenced. Plus, you get a real feel for these two wonderful, fully-fleshed protags in the other books and that, along with Charlie’s lovely prose, should not be missed.
Set about six weeks after the end of Lessons in Discovery, we find our heroes basking in domestic tranquility now that they are in their own home near the college. It begins thusly, immediately showing us the affection and humour these two share:
“I’ve been reading a book.”
“I remember you saying that once before. We were both stark naked in front of a fire just like this one and by rights should have been making a first consummation of our passion.”
Orlando Coppersmith swatted at his friend’s head with the first thing that came to hand, which luckily for Jonty Stewart wasn’t one of the fire dogs but a bread roll. “It’s a constant amazement to me that you’ve ever shut up long enough for a consummation to take place. Blether, blether, if they made it an Olympic event you’d be so certain to be champion that no one else would turn up to oppose you.”
While the mystery aspects of the books are engrossing, I really read the series for the relationship between Jonty and Orlando. One of the things that I love is how tender, gentle and loving they are with each other, and one way this comes through is via their little nicknames for each other, like “noodle head” and “fancy pants,” “my Orlando,” “my Jonty.” They are not afraid or inhibited with each other, and in private, they are very affectionate, with little kisses, touches, pets, etc, and they also are teasingly physical in little slaps, hits, and pinches, though never serious, and you don’t often see it in the telling, but it gets added right in with the dialog:
“Can’t you read a bit faster? Shall I fetch your strongest spectacles?”
“I’ll go slower now. I. Went. Back. To. Bed. Oof! That was unfair. In boxing you’d forfeit the round for a low blow.”
There is also a humorous rugby match between the English fellows and the mathematicians seen through the eyes of the only person on campus aware of the real nature of Jonty and Orlando’s relationship, the Master’s sister, Ariadne Peters. Both men have played rugby before — Jonty has pretty continually — and it gives them an opportunity to be a little rougher with each other in the name of good, muddy fun.
But it isn’t all gentle love and humour here. The subject matter is a bit dark as sexual abuse is the theme, and Jonty is right in the middle of it. I loved how all protective Orlando gets about Jonty in this story, wanting to save him from past and further hurt and trying to bring him out of his depression over the people involved with the case. And poor Jonty. This case had once again brought up all of the bad memories of those eighteen months at school where he suffered such abuse at the hands of “those boys” — now men. He is so upset and distracted that he has no interest in “doing his duty,” much to the chagrin of Orlando, who, while trying his hardest to be understanding, patient and supportive, is concerned that Jonty may not snap back to his old self. In the process of solving this murder mystery, Jonty must come to terms with what has happened and hopefully in effect, heal as the case resolves.
Another thing I like is how Jonty’s family is totally supportive of Jonty and accepting of Orlando, which I am sure was completely uncommon in that period of time. In fact, Orlando is closer to Jonty’s family than he ever was with his own. If you’ve read my review of LiDiscovery, you’ll know that I adore Jonty’s mother, Helena Stewart, of whom Jonty says “If I didn’t feel entirely loved and cherished by her she’d scare the pants off me.” And his father, Richard, is also a wonderful character in how he becomes like a little kid again at the prospect of being included in the sleuthing.
The third-person POV is shared among not only our heroes, but we see the story a bit though other secondary characters such as Matthew Ainslie (from book two, Lessons in Desire, playing a relatively large role here as the one who brings forth the case to Orlando and Jonty) and Miss Peters.
As usual, the smexxin is never graphic, and if described at all, beautiful, lovely prose is used:
The music began again, played on the instruments of skin, flesh, mouth and fingers. The fire had grown low, its pale orange light illuminating a pair of bodies rising and falling, the slow rhythm of their amorous duet at first diminuendo, allowing every moment to be savoured at leisure. Mezzo-piano caresses, pianissimo moans, delicate touches and kisses, until the mood changed with, poco a poco crescendo, the cadence increasing. A sweet bolero for two dancers together, united as one in time and motion, the escalating tempo matched by mounting exhilaration and anticipation. A handful more drumbeats, strong tympanic strokes and the music was over, duettists spent, tired, blissful. A horizontal symphony, the music of true love.
Charlie continually amazes me with her talent and skill as a writer and storyteller, and the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries has become one of my favorite series. In line with the rest of the books, LiP is well-written and -plotted, liberally laced with smart humor and well-developed, three dimensional characters. I suspected the reveal of the mystery, but it did not spoil it for me as I really read the series for our two heroes and their relationship.
I highly recommend Lessons in Power to those who are a fans of the series or this author, are looking for a murder mystery with a personal touch, or are looking for a gentle romance, though if you haven’t read the series, you should start with Lessons in Love. I eagerly await the next installment, Lessons in Temptation, due out in December. Based on some clues in this story, I suspect that I may have an inkling of what the plot will at least partially be in LiT and I’m curious to see if I’m right…