Title & buy link: The Shade on a Fine Day
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M paranormal historical
Length: Novella (72 pages, 23,000 words)
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: A solid, whimsical and engaging tale told with gentle humour.
Curate William Church may set the hearts of the parish’s young ladies aflame, but he doesn’t want their affection or presents. He has his sights set elsewhere, for a love he’s not allowed to indulge. One night, eight for dinner at the Canon’s table means the potential arrival of a ghost. But what message will the spirit bring and which of the young men around the table is it for?
William Church has been curate at St Archibald’s in a small Hampshire village for six months. He’s young and handsome and has prospects in the Church, so naturally he’s the source of great speculation and excitement for the local ladies. Every unmarried woman in the parish sets out to flirt with William, hoping that he’ll propose, but by December he’s still stubbornly refusing to show any preference for anyone or anything beyond his beloved church bells.
Two young ladies, Beatrice Swann and Madeleine Ardleigh, are particularly determined. Beatrice is annoyed because Madeleine once had eyes for Benjamin Swann, Beatrice’s brother, but now Madeleine is chasing William. Both women shower William with gifts, which he gives to the poor of another parish, but when William innocently gives away a silver-topped walking stick that belonged to Benjamin and Beatrice’s late father, it’s Benjamin who’s hurt by the gesture.
William and Benjamin are attracted to one another but daren’t breathe a word of their feelings for fear of incurring the disgust and rejection of their fellow parishioners. They tiptoe around each other, not quite acknowledging what they feel, until an unusual occurrence at a dinner party. Canon Newington and his unorthodox wife Jane invite several guests for dinner, and only eight attend. According to the lore of Jane’s culture (it’s never specified where she’s from, but it’s suggested that she’s from Polynesia), a spirit known as Toomhai Gamali turns up whenever a dinner party has eight guests, and sure enough, a ghost appears.
This is no scary ghost though, it looks like a lawyer and it’s well-spoken, dishing out praise for three people in the room who followed their hearts rather than let society dictate their fate, and advising other guests who have secrets hidden away that they should make their decisions and take action sooner rather than later. The guests are all amazed by this spectral visitor and over the next few days they start questioning themselves and each other as to which of their number could be keeping something secret.
William knows the ghost was talking to him, and to be absolutely certain of its point the ghost comes back and visits William on his own. William tells the ghost that it’s all very well to have a secret but quite another thing when that secret could destroy his life and his career as well as his faith. The ghost points out very sensibly that no one in this day and age should take the Old Testament literally, and as long as he’s discreet, no one will get hurt. This useful advice pushes William into making a decision on how – and with whom – he will live his life.
The Shade on a Fine Day is a sweet story with a Jane Austen-esque feel. Set in 1808 it has all the hallmarks of a provincial Georgian/Regency romance with the handsome churchman and the local gentry. However there’s a nice twist on the usual Regency fare, not just because it’s an M/M romance but because of the addition of the ghost and also Jane Newington’s character. The Newingtons were actually my favourites of all the characters – the Canon defied his family, the Church, and all expectations by becoming a missionary and coming home with a black woman as his wife, and Jane had to deal with racist and sexist attitudes. Both of them just get on with their lives and provide a good example for the more hesitant ‘unorthodox’ couple in the story, William and Benjamin.
Both heroes were a little wishy-washy for me, and while we got to know William quite well, Benjamin was a bit of a mystery, and I wished we’d seen more of their relationship, or at least been told more about it in the six months prior to the story taking place. The romance is very delicate and in terms of the story it revolves around a couple of conversations without much indication of any attraction that existed before. As readers of the Cambridge Fellows series are aware, Charlie Cochrane writes very understated and quiet romances, but perhaps it was a little too understated here.
Once William makes his decision, he approaches Benjamin and they begin a tentative relationship, making sure to cover their tracks and provide excuses for their decisions not to marry. The high point of the story came in the middle, which made the last half seem a little unnecessary, though I was invested in finding out what happened to Beatrice and Madeleine. I particularly liked Beatrice’s reaction when she found out the truth of the relationship between her brother and William. It seemed very realistic, especially as she’d had hopes for William herself.
As with most Cochrane stories, there’s a fine cast of strong supporting characters. I’ve mentioned a few of these characters but I should also mention the ghost, who is very witty and wise. There’s a lot of gentle humour and sly observations, also a trademark of this author.
Fans of Charlie Cochrane will enjoy this short novella and for those of you who’ve never read anything from this author before, it’s a good example of her tone and voice and shows her usual deft handling of characterisation.