Title: Music in the Midst of Desolation
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Music in the Midst of Desolation
Genre: M/M fantasy romance
Length: Short Story (58 pdf pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
A modern day short which managed to retain a historical feel due largely to a character from the First World War and a sweet romance.
Old soldiers never die — they get whisked straight back to earth to take part in angelic “manoeuvres”. Patrick Evans has no idea why he and Billy Byrne, who fought their wars a century apart, have been chosen for this particular “op”, nor why it seems to involve fixing up the man Billy left behind with someone Billy’s always hated. When Patrick realizes his old lover also has a connection to the case, will the temptation to refuse orders become too great?
It says on the cover of this book that it’s a twenty minute read. I think you’d have to have super-reading powers to read this story in that time. I consider myself to be a fairly speedy reader and it took me an hour! Also, please don’t be fooled by the naked men on the cover. This is a very chaste book and the only physical contact between the romantic pair is a cuddle on the sofa and a chaste kiss on the forehead. Don’t let that put you off though because this is a nicely written fantasy story with a great balance of drama and engaging dialogue.
The story begins with an introduction to Patrick. Taken out by a sniper bullet in the First World War, he’s spent the last 90 years in ‘HQ’ before being brought to Earth for a special mission. He finds himself teamed up with Billy, a veteran of the Iraq war who rather ingloriously got run over by a truck after leaving the army. Patrick and Billy are given the mission of making sure two men become lovers. Unfortunately for Billy one of these men is his grief stricken ex, and the other a man he hated with a passion.
Part of the fun of the story was in the pairing of Billy and Patrick. In some ways they are ideally suited as a pair of ex-soldiers and a few scenes where their training influences their actions in an almost identical fashion shows that not much has changed in terms of what makes a good soldier. This often made me smile, especially when the pair get to discuss tactics or reminisce on their time in the war. However, there are major differences too and Billy retains a very modern way of speaking and acting whereas Patrick is very much a man of the early twentieth century.
The story itself is one of overcoming grief, both for Rafe, Billy’s ex-lover, and for Billy who is fairly new to the afterlife and has yet to mourn for his lost Earthly life. The mission is hard for him because it involves letting Rafe go, and I particularly found the scenes where Billy has to come to terms with this loss poignant and touching. Patrick has had many years to acclimatise to life in HQ, so for him the book focusses on being back on Earth, in an Earthly body and all the problems that causes. I thought the author had done a good job in giving a vague idea of the muted emotions at HQ when compared to the stronger feelings of fear, sadness and joy that Patrick feels during the story. There are also some amusing touches to the setting, such as the fact that Earthly HQ has the perfect tea, coffee and sandwiches.
There is a romance sub-plot in the story, but its confined mostly to the end of the book and is more a comfortable slipping into past feelings than the bright sharpness of newly acquired feelings. It left me feeling warm and contented rather than excited and thrilled, but that’s no bad thing.
If I have any complaints it’s that once Patrick and Billy have completed their mission, Billy disappears from the story completely. Also we’re told the outcome of the mission rather than being shown. I felt a little cheated out of seeing Rafe get his second chance at love, although I understand this might have been too much for Billy to bear.
These were only minor niggles though in what was a charming short story. Charlie Cochrane always has a sly thread of humour running through her writing and that’s evident in this book too, even if the humour at times tips towards black. The tone of the story is generally quiet, but never drops into bleakness and the hopeful ending left me with a smile on my face. I highly recommend Music in the Midst of Desolation to those looking for an unusual character based fantasy romance.