The Wages of Sin

wages of sinTitle: The Wages of Sin
Author: Alex Beecroft
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M Historical Paranormal Romance
Length: 117 Pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5

A guest review by Erastes

THE BLURB

Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead.  He suspects murder.  But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.

THE REVIEW

Anyone familiar with Beecroft’s writing will know that she has turned her hand successfully to Georgian Age of Sail and also fantasy. To blend the Georgian era–about which she is superbly knowledgeable–with a phantasmagorical element seems a very logical next step.

The story is to be included in The Mysterious a trio of stories including others by Josh Lanyon and Laura Baumbach.  However, The Wages of Sin (which, incidentally, if you are interested, seem to be more sin, happily) is available as a standalone title.  As the title suggests it’s a mystery, and right from the first chapter it had me guessing, and in no time at all I was thoroughly spooked out, baffled, and enjoying myself hugely.

If you love the deeply Gothic, then this will certainly be your cup of horror, as the book positively drips with it. The protagonist, Charles–the rather dissolute second son of the Earl of Clitheroe appears in the first chapter, slightly worse for wear from a drunken night out and proceeds with the thoroughly mundane task of putting his horse in the stables. However, a head full of drink, the eerie dark, his conversation about vampires with his friends, and what he thinks is his imagination (at first) takes over and before long he’s encountering something that I’m sure many of us have encountered, a sudden dread of the real unknown. Shades of Udolpho shudder out from the hidden places: from the echo of the horse’s hooves on the cobbles, to terrifying shadows on the ivy, to an unease that can’t be explained and then something happens both horrible and inexplicable–which is passed off as being very explicable in no time at all, lulling us into a false sense of security.

If you are looking for a formula romance then this certainly isn’t it.  If you looking for a light and frothy read, then this probably isn’t for you.  Beecroft’s prose–always lavish and descriptive–is given full rein here: no fabric is undescribed, no ornamentation or wig left unnoticed. Any lover of antiques will positively wallow in the furniture and the trinkets.  Historical purists will revel in the fact that the men are wearing as much–or more–make-up than the ladies and are dressed in just as much lace and peacock-bright finery. From a lesser writer, this layer upon layer of description might seem injudicious or heavy handed, but Beecroft’s skill merely brings this slightly more alien Georgian world than than the familiar Regency we know so well, to vivid, sensual life.  You feel you are walking down those polished, creaking floors, that if you were to touch that lace, or brocade, you’d know just how it felt on your skin, you are left in no doubt that the clothes are unsuitable for just about every pursuit other than polite conversation, and that to be pilloried, or caught in the rain in a powdered wig are things you’re really glad you’ll never have to suffer.

The relationship–I hesitate to call it a romance, as the ending leaves Beecroft open to write more about these characters–ably shows why gay romance, and particularly gay historical romance baulks from being shoe-horned into a formula that readers of hetero romances have become used to.  From what we can glean from the historical record homosexual men would often take their pleasure quickly on the slimmest of encouragements and so it is here; due to the length constraints of the novella it’s difficult to have a dignified wooing, so the pair tumble into a connection which is primarily sexual–it’s not until the end that Charles begins to wonder and hope if there’s any future for them both. This grabbing of touches and kisses where they can, and where they hope they are safe, adds to the tension of the book which is unremitting throughout.

I absolutely loved the protagonists: Charles, with his clever mind and impetuous youth, who gets to grow up fast and learn things about himself and his family which change him for the better, and the delicious mysterious, conflicted Jasper with his own inner demons, his filial loyalty and his fingers in the butter. 🙂  The minor characters are rarely short-changed; the sister Elizabeth is quite masterly, the Admiral–I really loved the description of him–made me laugh with his silly feud with Charles’ father, and even the one-line servants are vibrant and believable.  The only character that I didn’t really get a real line on, was Charles’ brother, George–he’s a little two-dimensional and his motives muddied – but that’s possibly because Charles is a lot younger than him, and they are not close. Plus I feel there’s more of this story yet to be told.

The book made some valid social comment, too–after a tragedy with a servant there’s an exasperated rant from Elizabeth about the inconvenience it will cause this close to Christmas which made me laugh. (Although it really wasn’t funny.)

The language overall is rich, and gives a real sense of being there, rather than simply reading about it.  The mystery is beautifully paced, if you are anything like me you’ll have to read it at least twice to work out how you’ve been gulled, how you didn’t notice the clues being laid out there for all to see, and I happily went charging off in the wrong direction, which for me is the mark of a good mystery.

I did notice a couple of minor typos, and although the language was English English (colour etc) I did notice the dreaded whiskey sneak in. Once or twice I had to re-read sections to fully comprehend who the “he” was – an all too easy trap with gay romance, but it really only was once or twice. Sometimes the dialogue was a bit too modern, and clashed with the prose.  The cover is horrible too, imho–for some reason known only to itself, MLR seems to favour covers with headless torsos and a jumble of out of focus images. but I’m being uber-picky–like a judge in the final of Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars who criticises the angle of the shoulders in a 10 point performance. It’s only for these very minor points that I don’t add a “+” to this mark and make it a Desert Island Keeper (even though it certainly will be for me.)

I’m not sure if it’s called “The Wages of Sin” or just “Wages of Sin” as I’ve seen covers with both titles.  No matter – whatever it is, it’s an utterly spellbinding and spooky read, a cracking mystery and a really lush piece of Gothic literature.

Author

Erastes is an author of gay historical fiction. Her novels cover many time periods and locations. She lives in Norfolk UK with demanding cats and never seems to have enough time to serve them.

21 comments

  • I agree with most of what you say here about this story, although I’d have to seriously disagree that this is the best thing Alex has written. (I think False Colors and Hidden Isle were both better, but maybe I’m reading for different things than you are.)

    That aside however, please stop saying this: “The relationship [ . . . ] ably shows why gay romance, and particularly gay historical romance baulks from being shoe-horned into a formula that readers of hetero romances have become used to.” You’ve said it before many times that I know of, and I’m sure you’ll say it again, but it’s just not true. Seriously, Erastes, if you can say this with a straight face, you haven’t read very widely in het romance. There is just as much “formula” (although I would call it convention) in m/m romance, esp. m/m historical romance, as there is in het romance. AND there’s much more experimentation. I’m sorry, but if you can read Kinsale and Kleypas and Milan and Dahl and James and Holly and Beverley and Quick and Schwab and Ivory and Joyce, to mention only a few historical writers, and say they all write to a formula, you’re not reading closely enough. And if you can read the m/m historicals out there (which doesn’t touch the het romantic contemporary and romantic paranormals and romantic space odysseys and romantic steam punk and romantic suspense and romantic mysteries) and honestly say they’re doing something completely different from het historical romancae, you’re reading with blinders on.

    Do not try to raise one thing by trying to push down another. It just makes you look like a jerk and reflects badly on the thing for which you’re advocating. And alienates the bulk of your readers. Maybe not the bulk of the readers here, but certainly the bulk of your actual readers, who all read voraciously and read m/m and het romance indiscriminately.

    • I’m sorry I said anything to annoy you, Sarah, it certainly wasn’t meant. I trust you will allow me to have my own personal opinion about matters–I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, of course, but that’s what reviews are, personal opinions, and from my perspective, this is the best thing Alex has written. That you think others are, are entirely your prerogative, and I’d never be so bold as to disagree with you.

    • Ms Frantz
      While you are at liberty to disagree with a review I will not allow personal attacks on the reviewers.

      >> It just makes you look like a jerk and reflects badly on the thing for which you’re advocating< < ** I'm sorry but this comment is totally out of line, inappropriate and just rude. Every review is a personal opinion of the reviewer and they should be respected as such. You may not agree with Erastes's review but I would request that you refrain from using this review as a platform to raise other, much broader issues that have nothing to do with Alex's book. ** This site is open to anyone who can disagree without being discourteous or offensive and I would appreciate it if you would keep your comments to this review. If you have any personal issues with Erastes this is not the place to air them. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Wave.

      If the screed of plot requirements sent out by the Great Big Romance Publishing Machine is not a ‘formula,’ I don’t know what is. There are a lot of books turned out to fit formula. And I don’t see that acknowledging the existence of formula is an attack on an entire genre, nor on a specific writer. After all the people who whomped False Colors because it didn’t sail close enough to a “real” romance plot–I do think it’s fair to say that yes, there are quite a lot of readers who DO want their formula.

    • Creepy is certainly the word for it – not out and out HORROR, but that insidious creeping horror of the commonplace turned terrifying. Plus it pushed a lot of my personal demons like suffocation etc.

  • Erastes
    I can’t wait to read this. I love being scared and Alex is one of my very favourite authors. This is definitely going to the top of my TBR pile.

    *
    Wonderful review as usual Erastes.

    • Thanks Wave – it was a pleasure. I know that I’m probably being accused here and there of never marking Alex down, but how can one when she continues to write so well?

  • Thank you for the lovely review! I’m very chuffed that you liked it, and particularly that the ghostly elements actually worked. I’ve never done scary before, so although I managed to frighten myself a couple of times while writing it, I wasn’t sure if it would work on anyone else.

    The wages of sin are death, of course, so anyone left standing at the end can be assumed to be not very sinful at all 🙂

    • I am giggling at you scaring yourself like the Vikings in “I’ve got no head” (rather a pointless referrent if you haven’t seen the programme). I apologise for the silly joke about the wages of sin being.. more sin – I amuse only myself.

      I absolutely loved it, quite the best thing you’ve done so far. Stop it. 🙂

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