Author: Charlie Cochrane
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 265 Pages
At a Glance: Like sitting in one’s favorite chair on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea and quiet music playing in the background
Blurb: A more than professional interest . . . a more than personal intrigue.
Orlando Coppersmith should be happy. WWI is almost a year in the past, he’s back at St. Bride’s College in Cambridge, his lover and best friend Jonty Stewart is at his side again, and—to top it all—he’s about to be made Forster Professor of Applied Mathematics. And although he and Jonty have precious little time for an investigative commission, they can’t resist a suspected murder case that must be solved in a month so a clergyman can claim his rightful inheritance.
But the courses of scholarship, true love, and amateur detecting never did run smooth. Orlando’s inaugural lecture proves almost impossible to write. A plagiarism case he’s adjudicating on turns nasty with a threat of blackmail against him and Jonty. And the murder investigation turns up too many leads and too little hard evidence.
Orlando and Jonty may be facing their first failure as amateur detectives, and the ruin of their professional and private reputations. Brains, brawn, the pleasures of the double bed—they’ll need them all to lay their problems to rest.
Review: Lisa via e-mail recently quipped, “Jonty and Orlando are like comfort food.” Ayup. Most definitely. Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows series is my trusty bowl of comfort grub. I can depend on Jonty and Orlando to provide me with some nice, warm, comfy, fully satisfying escapism, and since I’ve read the entire series so far, it’s always great to come back to the familiar.
I first read Lessons for Survivors some months ago, just before Cheyenne Publishing closed their doors (a sore blow for us historical gay fiction fans). Seeing this book pop up in its second edition under Riptide gave me a lot of hope in seeing Cochrane’s Edwardian amateur sleuths continue their adventures. I was informed that this edition of the book contains some minor changes and additions, which I don’t mind at all. Seeing as how I can’t remember all of the details in the first edition, anyway, I dove into this new version as though I were reading this specific mystery for the first time.
The events in this book take place after the Great War, which was explored in a previous installment in the series. Jonathan “Jonty” Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith are older now – almost forty years old, together as a couple for fourteen years since the first book – and the physical descriptions of the pair certainly left their mark on me. Though poignant, the acknowledgment of the passage of time is significant and very much appreciated, and that shows not only in the physical descriptions of the characters, but also what happens to everyone around them, their work as respected academics, and their behavior toward each other as lovers and partners in detection. Having gotten used to the presence of certain side characters throughout the series, it was pretty heartbreaking finding some of them gone. Occasional references to them as well as to expressions of loss in either or both Jonty and Orlando can really twist your heart, which gives this book an elegiac quality that’s difficult to dismiss.
As with the previous books in this series, this book’s perfectly balanced in tone, with darker elements involving murder, an abusive father and husband, and a rejected child are woven neatly together with the lighthearted, witty banter fans of this series have long grown to love and expect. Jonty and Orlando might be fourteen years older from the time they first met, but they still behave like lovesick twenty-somethings, and they still kick each other’s shins in warning or as punishment, if not call each other names, with a great deal of affection. They throw euphemisms around when it comes to sex, but with their maturity comes a good dose of self-awareness that sometimes borders on rueful whenever they try to talk about not just their still-outlawed relationship, but the act of lovemaking. I tend to interpret those euphemisms – and the manner with which they’re used – as something more along the lines of nostalgia, like a keen awareness of their younger, more frightened versions as a kind of a reference point for their current selves. While the act itself has never diminished in passion, there’s a deeper understanding of its significance, considering how far they’ve gone and how the laws have yet to change. While still eager and passionate, their intimacy is also edged with – and enriched by – a certain level of pragmatism.
Side characters who survived the Great War and past epidemics are just as cheeky and subversive when called on for help, and in their dwindling circle, Jonty and Orlando find their much-needed grounding when duty (academic and sleuthing) threatens to overwhelm them. Dr. Panesar, especially, is fantastic, and I hope to see him make more frequent appearances in future installments.
For this book, two events are taking place simultaneously: the murder (primary event) and the plagiarism case, which includes a blackmail threat (secondary event). And this is where things get a little wobbly for me. The main mystery is handled very, very well. When at first everything appears to be so cut and dry – to the point where I wondered how Cochrane would be able to stretch out the riddle into a full novel – we’re thrown surprises and red herrings along the way. So much so, whatever initial “Aha! I know whodunnit!” we might’ve entertained at the beginning (and I love racing against the detectives when reading a mystery, solving the puzzle pieces myself before anyone can figure stuff out) is easily overrun by false leads and new revelations that force us to go back to square one.
To me, the way the secondary problem was resolved was underwhelming, not because everything gets tied up so easily and neatly in the end, but because the solution to the problem depends way too much on coincidence. In addition to Owens (and his college) being painted as low-grade trash with zero redeeming qualities, to have Jonty’s family’s very convenient connections as a means by which the problem would be solved proved to be a bit of a disappointment for me. Unless Cochrane’s setting us up for further adventures that follow this remarkable coincidence in a future book, I ended up wondering why have this subplot to begin with. As it stands, given my response to it, it seems superfluous, and what it does do is not only make the rival college a one-dimensional haven of hopeless fools (something already established in previous books), but also reiterate just how lucky and influential the Stewart family is (something already established in previous books). From the outset, then, Orlando and Jonty weren’t in any real trouble, which pretty much undermined the conflict of the blackmail threat.
Beyond that, though, I was delighted with the book, and the subplot didn’t really diminish much of my enjoyment. There’s nothing like coming back to what’s familiar and comfortable and reacquainting myself with a slowly graying pair of lovebirds. Like sitting in one’s favorite chair on a rainy day with a cup of hot tea and quiet music playing in the background.
You can pre-order Lessons for Survivors here: