Title: Count the Shells (A Porthkennack Novel)
Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 246 Pages
At a Glance: Count the Shells is another lovely historical romance from this author and, likewise, another lovely addition to the Porthkennack universe.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.
Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.
When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.
Review: Going into a Charlie Cochrane historical novel expecting flash and bang is like going into a Merchant Ivory film expecting Quentin Tarantino. Cochrane’s voice lends itself so beautifully to a story such as Count the Shells, as she consistently captures and conveys the time in which her novels are set through little more than the genteel language and gentrified air of her characters. To look at this novel through a contemporary lens is to deprive oneself of slipping fully into a time gone by, and the bucolic setting and its seaside locale, post-World War I, only adds to the story’s ambiance and contrasts the secrets that are exposed upon Michael Gray’s return to Porthkennack, secrets which threaten to turn a family inside out.
The book’s title is such a poignant complement to the hidden meaning behind Michael’s shell counting with his young nephew, Richard, and reflects the losses he has experienced even before the war began. For someone such as Michael, someone who prefers men, the practicality of caution tempers every frisson of attraction; although, when this novel begins, Michael’s heart is not his own—it belongs to grief and regret over the last words he spoke to his first love in a heated moment of youthful pride and anger. Michael may have lost the opportunity to make amends with Thomas, who didn’t return from battle, but as this is a story of second chances, Michael does get an opportunity to find love again, with the last person he might have expected.
Harry Carter-Clemence is Thomas’s younger brother, and remembered by Michael as the nuisance he and Thomas had often escaped from to find their stolen moments of heated passion. Harry has grown up, however, having fought in the war himself, and Michael can’t help but notice it, even as some shock registers along with the appreciation for Harry’s resemblance to his brother. Their connecting in the present is made all the more difficult with ghosts of the past hovering on the periphery and ultimately intruding on their time together, and the sense of Harry’s hopefulness adds a sweet overtone to the drama that lies ahead. When pillow talk reveals a rather messy family secret, a betrayal from which Michael might not rebound derails a relationship that had just barely been kindled.
Not given to hyperbolic dialogue or extremes in behavior, there is even a sense of propriety in Matthew’s anger when the trail of lies and secrecy begins to unfold before him, which might just be a reflection of that stiff upper lip we hear so much about, and there were times I wondered at the placement of or, perhaps, the misplacement of his ire, but if anything, it made him all the more human for it. Michael is dealt quite a blow, and nothing is simple anymore, although the one person who is most affected by what’s happened, Michael’s brother-in-law, Eric, is a means for the author to craft him into a standout character among this cast. Eric exemplifies wisdom and an admirable capacity for forgiveness when Michael needed it most, and I adored the man for his kindhearted and pragmatic nature.
Charlie Cochrane handles any question of Michael’s feelings for Harry stemming from his former relationship with Thomas with a careful eye towards obliterating any question in readers’ minds that Harry is riding on his late brother’s coattails, and I was happy when they overcame their external obstacles to begin something of their own making.
Count the Shells is the third book I’ve read in the Porthkennack universe, the second of Charlie Cochrane’s contributions to the series I’ve read, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. This is a quiet story, idyllic in setting and heartfelt in emotional tone, and another lovely historical offering from this author.
You can buy Count the Shells here: