A guest review by Jenre
All hell breaks loose when Dean Smith, Earl of Carwick, is tricked into being discovered in the company of Rob, a handsome male prostitute. Now Dean needs to repair his broken engagement to a wealthy heiress…and Rob is the only one who can identify the man who set him up, proving to Dean’s fiancée that things weren’t as they appeared.
The trip from Worcester to Bath turns into a journey of self-discovery, as Dean finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Rob. His charming companion stirs feelings Dean has long kept repressed, but acting on them would make true the accusations that destroyed his engagement in the first place. Torn between duty and desire, Dean’s destiny lies in the hands of a Discreet Young Gentleman.
Having read and enjoyed MJ Pearson’s previous historical m/m, The Price of Temptation (reviewed here), I was eager to read some more of her books. Discreet Young Gentleman has the same fluid prose and attention to detail as TPOT, but its tone is much darker.
The book begins with our hero Dean, the Earl of Carwick, returning from seeing his tenants. He is looking forward to his wedding to the daughter of the local magistrate, which, for reasons we discover later, is necessary as Meredith brings much money to the union. The coach is held up by a rather inept highwayman who Dean easily overcomes and takes to his prospective father-in-law to be brought to justice. However, it is discovered that the man, Rob, isn’t a highwayman, but a male prostitute. The magistrate is appalled that Dean has been in a closed carriage with a male whore and calls off the engagement to his daughter. In desperation, Dean persuades Rob to travel to Bath with him, where his fiancee is currently ‘taking the waters’ to see if he can get Minerva to talk to her Father and claim it was all a misunderstanding.
The journey to Bath makes up the bulk of this novel and in the spirit of all ‘road movies’ the pair find themselves sidetracked by many situations – some of their own making, some not – which stretches their journey from 4 days to more than a week. During that time, Dean and Rob slowly get to know each other and Dean comes to realisation that his attraction to the other man is not something that can be repressed. I liked the format of the book, just as I like any book which takes us on a journey. By necessity both men are within close quarters during the journey and that too allowed me to get to know Rob and Dean better. I liked the way that Dean, at first, is eager to get to Bath, but once he learns of Rob’s love of ghost stories is happy to stop here, there and everywhere in search of a good ‘ghost sighting’ place. Along the way, the reader too gets to find out a bit about the history of various establishments in Worcestershire, the Cotswolds and onto Bath. It was all very interesting and added to the historical accuracy of the book.
In terms of characters, we only really get to know three very well. Dean and Rob, obviously, but there is a sub-plot involving Dean’s coachman, Erich, which I enjoyed just as much as the main story. Both Dean and Rob have parts of themselves with which they are unhappy – although in the case of Rob, this is not the fact that he’s a whore. I liked how both men were so similar in their journey through life and the point at which this is made known explicitly, was quite a poignant part of the book. Out of the two characters I liked Rob better. He has a determined cheerfulness about him as well as a gentleness and vulnerability which made him appealing. Dean is the third person narrator, and it’s possibly this which makes him the less sympathetic character as we see all his disgust and jealousy over Rob’s profession. On a number of occasions he is downright insulting to Rob – flinging his profession in his face and calling him names – and I did wonder why Rob put up with that with such equanimity, especially as he is nothing but supportive and caring towards Dean.
Despite Dean’s attitude to Rob, the growing feelings that he has for him was handled well. This is no ‘straight to gay’ story, more a tale of a man who is in desperate denial. It takes the whole journey for Dean to come to the realisation that he is gay and yet he is determined to get married. There is a sense of quiet hopelessness as Dean realises that knowing Rob, knowing what he can never have, will colour the rest of his life and I felt quite sad for Dean and Rob at that point. It was beautifully done.
Other characters do flit in and out of the book as the heroes make their way to Bath. I especially liked the scene in the all male house party hosted by Dean’s friends, the time spent with Dean’s uncle and also how even the most minor character, such as innkeepers and barmaids were characters in their own right.
Overall, this was an unexpected read. I had thought from the blurb that I would be treated to a rollicking journey in the tradition of a comedy or farce. In fact I got much better than that: A strong character based book following two men who yearn for one another but have many obstacles in the way and a theme involving how your looks or abilities at birth can affect you for the rest of your life. I enjoyed Discreet Young Gentleman very much and would recommend it to those who like Regency historicals or character based romance.