Title & buy link: Heart to Hart
Author: Erin O’Quinn
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M historical
Length: Novel (55,000 words)
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Opposites attract in this entertaining romp set in 1920s Ireland.
Michael McCree is one with a mysterious past, who ends up as a newspaper man, thereby meeting the strikingly handsome Simon Hart, who comes to his shop to turn in an obituary notice.
Simon’s flat-mate and former business partner has been killed, and Simon, a private investigator, needs to track down the murderer. Michael, immediately smitten with the sulky and sexy man, lays a plan to first become his new roomer, then his business partner.
But Simon, stricken by his recent loss, is having none of Michael’s undisguised interest.
Not a man to be deterred easily from a goal, Michael sets about winning Simon’s affection. That particular battle is almost as difficult as tracking down the murderer of his predecessor, a nosy detective who was getting too close to the crimes of an evil person.
Simon spends more time ducking Michael’s advances than actually finding clues and solving the mystery. Inquiring minds want to know—how hard is Simon really trying to avoid Michael? And Michael isn’t hiding his forthright urges, but what secret is he hiding?
First of all, that blurb is one of the most ill-written things I’ve ever seen. It looks like it was originally written in a different language and then run through an online translator! However we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and fortunately this story was far away from the awful stilted blurb.
Newspaper man Michael McCree is intrigued when Simon Hart, a tall, attractive man with a fighter’s physique yet who seems cold and aloof, asks to place two adverts in the newspaper. One is a death notice for a young man nicknamed Sargent; the other advertises the need for a roommate. When Simon complains at the cost of the adverts, Michael offers to refund the money if Simon agrees to fight with him. It’s been a while since a man had such an instant effect on Michael, and he decides it’s time he moved out of his aunt’s house, where he’s been lodging, and move in with this mysterious gentleman instead.
Using the skills of the streets and what he’s learned as an immigrant to Boston before circumstances forced him back to Ireland, Michael watches Simon for a while before making his move. When Simon doesn’t seem too keen to accept Michael as his new roommate, Michael suggests another wager – they have that fight now, and if Simon loses, he has to agree to Michael moving in with him.
Simon rarely loses a fight, but he’s distracted by grief. His business partner in their investigative agency has been murdered. Not only that, but Sargent was much more than just a business partner. He was Simon’s closest friend, their comradeship helping them through the Great War, and they were roommates. If it weren’t for Simon’s uncertainty and Sargent’s diffidence, they might also have been lovers. Simon swears to discover who’s responsible for Sargent’s death, but he doesn’t know how to go about it while his mind is so occupied with mourning what was and what could have been.
The arrival of the boisterous, rollicking Michael, who makes no secret of his desire, confuses Simon in every way possible. For the first time, Simon realises what it’s like to be actively wanted by another man, which both alarms and excites him. At the same time, he needs to attend to his investigative work, and Michael proves to be an able partner. Maybe it’s time Simon lets go of the past and allows Michael into his life – and maybe once they’ve unmasked Sargent’s killer, they can build a future together.
Heart to Hart is an enjoyable, light-hearted romp of a story. In the notes at the start of the book, the author says she’s deliberately steering clear of many historical issues that troubled Ireland in the 1920s, choosing instead to create a fictional city for her characters to inhabit. In all other respects, though, we’re given a good feel for life at that time and place, from specific quarter-hour blocks of time for bathing to the clothes that were worn, to vehicles and slang.
Michael is a larger than life character with simple desires, but he’s hiding a secretive background. He makes no bones about his lust for Simon, but though he’s over the top, he’s got charm. Beneath his blarney he’s smart, seeing clues that Simon has missed, and for all his levity, a lot of it is an act that can be dropped as the situation requires.
Simon is a more enigmatic and complex character. It seems his mother died when he was young, and his father is a shadowy figure who may or may not still be alive. Well educated and appearing like an ‘uppity-muppity’, as Michael calls the upper classes, Simon is physically fit and has an agile mind. He doesn’t consider himself gay, perhaps from fear, yet he was in love with Sargent; Michael’s easy, open affection frightens Simon and makes him question himself.
I’m leery of waving the InstaLove label, but Michael does fall for Simon pretty much straight away. At first it’s lust, but he does declare himself after a fairly short space of time. However, what makes this story different is Simon’s complicated reaction. Some readers may dislike it, but I found it believable, even if I did want to knock some sense into him at times.
The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me is that Michael knowingly pursues a grieving man. Even though Simon and Sargent weren’t lovers, they were extremely close and Simon loved him. Part of Simon’s resistance to Michael’s advances is because of this, but his capitulation is also tied up in his feelings for Sargent. Basically it’s a very messy way to start a relationship, and were it not for the fact that this seems to be the first book in a series, I’d be uneasy about the romance aspect. I hope that Ms O’Quinn explores the ramifications of this in further books, because there’s a lot of potential for internal conflict between these two very different men.
The mystery part of the story bowls along nicely, with two minor cases to develop the characters and their relationship. The baddy is fairly obvious from early on in the book, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment as the motivation was unclear until the resolution. I liked the secondary characters, especially the street urchins employed by Simon, and also Sargent’s brother Jackie. Overall a good, solid read, and I look forwards to seeing more of these characters in future instalments of this series.