Title: Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows #5)
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Historical (early 1900s) Mystery
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
He thinks he has everything. Until someone tries to steal it.
For friends and lovers Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart, a visit to Bath starts out full of promise. While Orlando assesses the value of some old manuscripts, Jonty plans to finish his book of sonnets. Nothing exciting…until they are asked to investigate the mysterious death of a prostitute.
Then Orlando discovers that the famous curse of Macbeth extends far beyond the stage. It’s bad enough that Jonty gets drawn into a local theatre’s rehearsals of the play. The producer is none other than Jimmy Harding, a friend from Jonty’s university days who clearly finds his old pal irresistible. Worse, Jimmy makes sure Orlando knows it, posing the greatest threat so far to their happiness.
With Jonty involved in the play, Orlando must do his sleuthing alone. Meanwhile, Jonty finds himself sorely tempted by Jimmy’s undeniable allure. Even if Orlando solves the murder, his only reward could be burying his and Jonty’s love in an early grave…
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries
Lessons in Temptation is book five of Charlie Cochrane’s fabulous Cambridge Fellows Mystery series. Although some series books can be read as standalones, I would say that you really should begin with book one as there is so much 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. And for those of you who dismiss the series because of the historical setting, note that it is close enough in the distant past for lovers of contemporaries to have few issues with this time (early 1900s).
Set a few months after the end of Lessons in Power, the story opens with our heroes Jonty and Orlando in Bath beginning a two-week working holiday. With each needing a different time of day to do their tasks, they have time away from the other to do what they would like. Jonty joyfully learns of a production of Macbeth in the works and, being an expert on the Bard, offers to assist with some professional guidance and accuracy to the troupe. When it is discovered that an old friend of Jonty’s from University, Jimmy Harding, is producing and directing the play, Orlando immediately bristles at both his lover’s reaction and social faux pas, and has feelings of instant dislike and jealousy toward Jimmy. Jimmy makes it clear that he is after Jonty’s affections in a challenge of sorts, enraging Orlando, who has real fear of losing his mate. Jonty himself is shocked at his attraction to Jimmy, and as much as he tries to fight it, he is, at times, in danger of losing the battle and placing his most important relationship in jeopardy. In the midst of this test, and as a result of a recent article written about their sleuthing abilities, they are commissioned to solve a murder mystery that occurred at one of the therapeutic hot spring bathing facilities twenty-five years previous.
I admit to, based on my first reading, not loving this book as much as the previous stories for difficult-to-explain reasons, even to myself. I was really hoping that it was not because I was tiring of the series or the characters or the writing, so, as is my process, I reread it for review and, for yet another difficult-to-explain reasons, it was much better for me, hence, the 5-star rating. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood the first time around? I don’t know.
I found this book, perhaps more than any of the others, to be internal-conflict driven, especially for Jonty. Previous installments were either somewhat lighter, getting-to-know-you stories (along with the murder mysteries) or dealt with issues beyond the control of the characters on many levels — memory loss, overcoming the effects of sexual abuse — but here, we have emotion and feelings that are very character-specific — jealousy, temptation, anger, guilt, doubt, trust. Don’t get me wrong, though it is a perhaps more angsty than the others because of all of that emotion, Charlie’s trademark dialog and humor come through, making it a joy to read and much less heavy than it could have been.
I love these two heroes! Orlando was so fun to watch to how eager he is to take on another case and how he has the detective bug:
Jonty was very fond of Henry V and particularly liked the line about greyhounds in the slips — it could have been applied to Orlando right at that moment. It seemed as though his ears had pricked up and his nostrils were aquiver.
“Shouldn’t the police be involved?” Orlando was clearly fighting the temptation to say “show us the body now, we’re your men”
Here we also have “mathematical volcano” Orlando in jealous mode, not just about Jonty and “Smarmy Guts,” but also about once again the possibilities of having someone else find clues and/or crack the case before he does.
But I found this story to be more about “Bard-pants” Jonty and his crisis of temptation than about Orlando’s reaction and even the case. Much of the book is taken up with his angst over a situation that he tries desperately to control and at times has real difficulty. His attraction to Jimmy is sudden, unexpected and unwanted, and while there are times when I thought “Oh, don’t you dare, Jonty,” how he handles it showed me how much he has both developed as a character and maturity as a man. I found his reasoning through the challenge really interesting, often bringing in outside opinions — his parents, Orlando, even Jimmy — into his head even though the people aren’t there. One helpful side effect from all of it, however, is that he better understands the book of Shakespeare’s sonnets he is analyzing, as he never grasped some of the emotions before:
If there was one positive aspect to the heart wringing which was affecting him, it was the effect of giving him some appreciation of what was going on within that triangle of love and jealousy, something he’d never had any understanding of before.
This story, perhaps more than any other so far, also conveys the prudish and conservative morals left over the Victorian era. There is much disapproval, especially on Orlando’s part (though that also may come from his upbringing as well), of the debauchery, nude mixing of the genders (though he has no problem with going au naturel in similar company), pregnancy out of wedlock, the possibility of intentional abortion, prostitution, deceit mixed with sex, men playing women in true Elizabethan theatrical fashion that is of subject in this installment.
“It’s not right. It’s not about love and if it’s not about love than what’s the point of…” Orlando stopped short of saying the word sex. They may have been alone in the bath but he was taking no chances. “The point of it? Relations, you know.”
It made him feel physically sick, as always happened when he contemplated sexual activity that wasn’t within the context of a loving relationship. Bodies bought and sold like meat, pleasure and intimacy shared for the exchange of coin, simply scandalised him.
The mystery element here left me guessing until the reveal as there were so many viable suspects and so many lies and red herrings. Note that for the first time, the two men work on and solve the case almost separately because of their time constraints, and I found that I missed them working as a team.
As I’ve waxed on before, the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries is one of my favorite series. Charlie is such a talent and her books are so well-written and -plotted, full of smart humor, great dialog, and well-developed, three dimensional characters.
Fans of the series or this author should not miss Lessons in Temptation. Book six, Lessons in Seduction, should be released in February 2010.