Willing Flesh

Title: Willing Flesh
Author: J.S. Cook
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Willing Flesh
Genre: M/M historical mystery romance
Length: 296 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Jenre

Summary Review
Dark murky goings on in Victorian London are brought to life in this engaging mystery with a couple of likeable heroes.


When a series of bizarre murders occur in London’s notorious East End, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Philemon Raft is called on to solve the crimes, but even he is powerless to explain why the victims are displayed in public places — or why the killer insists on drilling burr holes in their skulls. With little to go on except the strange red dust found on the victims’ palms, Raft must scour the city looking for an explanation. Aided only by his newly-appointed constable Freddie Crook, Raft’s investigation takes him into London’s most dark and dangerous places, where human predators wait to devour and destroy.

But Raft has an even bigger problem: a casual acquaintance is blackmailing him, and what she knows about his secrets could tear Raft’s life to pieces.


Those of you who like historical mysteries are in for a treat with Willing Flesh. It’s a dark and murky tale of murder in Victorian London. Inspector Raft of Scotland yard is called on to investigate a series of gruesome murders where the victims are killed and then their skulls are drilled into. With the help of his new constable, Freddie, Raft is drawn deep into the back streets of the East End, where even the aristocracy isn’t safe from the murderer’s long arm, and where blackmail, male prostitution and poisonings complicate Raft’s case – as does his attraction to Freddie.

One of the things that struck me most about this book was the wonderful setting of Victorian London. We are never told the year, but given some of the Victorian inventions in the book (lifts?) I am guessing that the book takes place late in the 1800’s. Although the city is there as a backdrop, there isn’t any excessive description of places. Instead London is brought to life by the many people who pass through the book’s pages. From whores to children, police officers and surgeons, rent boys and nobility, the people in the book create London for the reader, personalising the book and easily pulling me into the story. Unfortunately this strength could also be seen to be one of the book’s weaknesses because there are so many characters in this story, many of whom only appear for only a few pages, that I sometimes lost track of who was who, and more vitally who was important to the story and needed to be remembered.

One character I couldn’t fail to remember is Inspector Raft. He’s a hard working – and hard put on – police officer who spends much of the book chasing down loose ends, getting frustrated as the bodies begin to pile up, not sleeping well, getting attacked and generally behaving with a mix of tenacity and world-weariness that many great detectives seem to share. Added to this is Raft’s terror over the fact that someone should discover he is gay, especially in the light of the recent Labouchere Amendment to the law which meant that any man caught in a homosexual act could be subject to 2 years hard labour. The thought of being caught and prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ fills Raft with dread and he spends much of the book worrying about it. On the other hand Raft’s constable, Freddie, is a constant temptation to Raft, especially since Freddie doesn’t seem to be as concerned as Raft over the new amendment. I had a great deal of fun reading about their developing relationship and I liked that the emotional Raft found an anchor in the steadier Freddie.  I also liked the way that their investigative techniques were very different and further complemented their relationship, plus I liked that Freddie had his own story to tell and was therefore much more than the ‘love interest/sidekick’.

The mystery itself is a complex meandering thing which brings in lots of characters and threads and loose ends and then gradually pulls them all together to make a clean and satisfying ending – one where I failed to guess the murderer until the reveal. Having said that, I felt that the sub-plot regarding the male prostitutes sat uneasily with the main murder mystery and I don’t think it would have harmed the book any had that sub-plot been dropped. It was hard enough at times to follow the main threads of the mystery without that secondary plot to muddy the waters.  The murder mystery is also a bit gruesome in places – so a warning there to those faint-hearted readers.   One aspect which I felt was underused was the paranormal leanings of Raft and I await to see whether more will be made of that in subsequent books.

Overall, this was a complicated and compelling historical mystery with unusual and interesting characters in Raft and Freddie. The author has certainly garnered my attention for the series and I look forward to reading the next book. Until then I recommend Willing Flesh to those readers who like historicals and want to get their teeth into a knotty mystery.


  • I loved this one and am loving the next installment in the series – Rag And Bone – as well. The plot is complex as are the characters. I found myself having to pay very close attention to the details of the investigation. It’s very interesting how there is so much attention paid to the seedy side of “men’s clubs” in London from a legal perspective that Raft and Freddie must uphold while at the same time they are developing an intimate relationship (which is very hot and erotic by the way). I really like how the author reveals some layers of Freddie and Raft yet also leaves us with more questions about their pasts, secrets and personalities in general. Hope there is many in this series.

  • I started Willing Flesh this morning and wanted to how much I enjoyed your review, which immediately had me running to All Romance and purchasing it.

    I’m only half way so can’t really comment fully, except to say I’m really enjoying it. There are a couple of things that haven’t yet been explained – one, you mentioned, the paranormal aspect which I hope will form a greater part of the next novel, as well as Raft’s meandering, pattering aloud thoughts. To me it almost feels like a disorder perhaps not yet diagnosed in the era, like Aspergers or autism. But I could be totally reading too much into it:) Already I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series!

    • Thanks, MaDonna :). I hope the remainder of the book is just as enjoyable. I’m looking forward to the next book too 🙂

  • I’m for sure getting this one tomorrow (Tuesday). I’ve just now realized that I am buying 3 books tomorrow! Oh well. Fun for me. Great review Jenre. Oh no I just remembered Tamara Allen’s book came out today. 😮

  • Ooooh, this is right up my alley, Jen — hits all of my buttons. Thanks for the fab review. I am so getting it.


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