Title: Lessons in Seduction
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Buy link: Amazon.com (Paperback only)
Genre: Historical (early 1900s) Mystery
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
This time, one touch could destroy everything…
The suspected murder of the king’s ex-mistress is Cambridge dons Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart’s most prestigious case yet. And the most challenging, since clues are as hard to come by as the killer’s possible motive.
At the hotel where the body was found, Orlando goes undercover as a professional dancing partner while Jonty checks in as a guest. It helps the investigation, but it also means limiting their communication to glances across the dance floor. It’s sheer agony.
A series of anonymous letters warns the sleuths they’ll be sorry if they don’t drop the investigation. When another murder follows, Jonty is convinced their involvement might have caused the victim’s death. Yet they can’t stop, for this second killing brings to light a wealth of hidden secrets.
For Orlando, the letters pose a more personal threat. He worries that someone will blow his cover and discover their own deepest secret… The intimate relationship he enjoys with Jonty could not only get them thrown out of Cambridge, but arrested for indecency.
Lessons in Seduction is book six of Charlie Cochrane’s wonderful Cambridge Fellows Mystery series. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here for those who read this review first: this author is such a talent and the books are so well-written and -plotted, full of smart humor, great dialog, and well-developed, three dimensional characters. Although some series books can be read as standalones, I would say that you absolutely 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.
Our story opens about a month after the end of Lessons in Temptation, with Orlando and Jonty being asked to investigate the death of a former mistress of the King who died under suspicious circumstances at a seaside resort. The question is did the seemingly healthy, though older woman, die of natural causes or was she murdered? Although thrilled to be sleuthing again and granted a rare sabbatical to take on the case, they unhappily head to the hotel separately as Orlando is to go undercover in the guise of a dancing partner in the employ of the resort, with Jonty — the more recognizable of the now relatively famous pair — going as himself to investigate in the open. While there, however, they cannot acknowledge the other, making both the separation and the times they see each other across the room torturous. Considering the familial connections to the King, Jonty arranges for his father to help, which gives him not only another set of eyes on the case, but provides some support as well to get through the lonely times. Soon, vague, but threatening notes to stop investigating appear that have all three men worried. After another death occurs — this time definitely a homicide — the Stewarts fear not only that ignoring the notes may have contributed to the murder, but perhaps one of the “detectives” was the intended target.
While the entire series is great, this is probably my favorite book so far. It has just the perfect mix of humor, romance, mystery and sleuthing, allowing us to get to know our heroes more while giving us a solid mystery to solve along with them. I found it to be lighter in tone than the previous book — which worked well for me — with several laugh-out-loud moments, including a hilarious scene with Jonty going all caveman role-play on Orlando.
“What’s that supposed to mean? And aren’t you cavemen a little short on original dialogue? Everything sounds the same. How would they know if you wanted a romantic encounter or were just trying to find your way to the nearest rhino hunt?”
“They would have used a lot more gestures than I do. Anyway you’re supposed to be looking at least a little timid, or in thrall to my manliness. Could you decide which and then attempt it. Hm?” Jonty removed his jacket, quickly slipping off his uncavemanlike cufflinks and tie.
“As I am always in thrall to your intense masculinity I’ll opt for the former, then.”
I adore how these two are with each other, how they talk to each other, how they treat each other. How they tease and joke and not-so-gently, though playfully, abuse each other with pinches, slaps and punches. How they have little nicknames for one another, both recurring and off-the-cuff, such as “prince of the paso doble,” “oh genius of my heart,” “soppy pants.” How they love each other and how affectionate they are in words and gestures when they are alone. They have come such a long way in two years — especially Orlando, who is at times a completely different person from where he began (in a good way). And it’s interesting; as with the previous installment, this book finds Jonty and Orlando working separately with little time together, yet in some ways, it shows how wonderful they are together in the few opportunities they have to be so.
We also get to know Jonty’s father, Richard, much better here as he has a major role assisting our heroes in the investigation. In fact, his role is so large and we get enough of a POV from him that he feels like a third protag to me. I really like him and how excited he gets at playing “a real detective.” It was interesting to get an account of how he worked through accepting Jonty’s orientation, as he is a God-fearing, Bible-following man, placing his “beloved Ten Commandments” above all else. I also liked watching him and Jonty together, and I think this case was an excellent bonding opportunity for them.
Mr. Stewart’s bath proved to be one from which he leaped Archimedes-like with a great revelation. Dripping all over the carpet, despite the two towels draped around him like a toga, he burst through the interconnecting door to his son’s room. “Billy Mustard!”
“Is that a minced oath, Papa? Because if it is, I shall spend the whole evening wondering what it’s supposed to be.”
“And I shall spend the whole evening wondering why Orlando hasn’t succumbed to temptation and murdered you. I’d defend him. I’d say he was provoked beyond the point that any man could endure.”
Jonty grinned, knowing his father was demonstrating, in some obscure fashion, that he knew just how deep the affection ran between his son and his colleague.
One of the things I adore about these books is that the recurring cast all likes each other, that they like being in each others’ company, that they are kind and joking and lovingly teasing with each other, as the above quote exhibits.
The cast of secondary characters is as colorful and well-developed as in previous books. Ariadne Peters, sister of the St. Bride’s Master, reprises her role as Jonty’s unlikely confidant and adds an unexpected, but humorous minor sub-plot to the story. I also find it interesting that Mrs. Ward, our heroes’ loyal and trustworthy housekeeper — though rarely on screen and I think without even having any dialog — continues to make an impression on me as their protector from the world even knowing what they are to each other during a time when their love was not accepted. Oh, and we get to meet Orlando’s Grandmother Coppersmith, a woman who has had a huge, positive impact on him, especially since his parents were less-than-stellar and who gives some surprising, secretive news to Jonty, the repercussions of which we may see in the next book.
Once again, the mystery elements left me guessing until the reveals with many viable suspects and reasons for the two deaths.
Charlie Cochrane has once again given us a fabulous read in Lessons in Seduction, one that should not be missed by fans of the series or this author. The final installment, Lessons in Trust, should be released in May.