I Buried a Witch (Bedknobs and Broomsticks #2) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Something old, something new, something borrowed…something blacker than the darkest night.

Cosmo Saville adores his new husband, but his little white lies and some very black magic are about to bring their fairy tale romance to an end. Someone is killing San Francisco’s spell casters, and the only person Cosmo can turn to – the man who so recently swore to love and cherish him – isn’t taking his phone calls.

The only magic police commissioner John Joseph Galbraith believes in is true love. Discovering he’s married to a witch – one with something alarmingly like magical powers – is nearly as bad as discovering the man he loved tricked and deceived him.

John shoulders the pain of betrayal and packs his bags. But when he learns Cosmo is in the crosshairs of a mysterious and murderous plot, he knows he must do everything in in his mortal power to protect him.

Till death do them part. With their relationship on the rocks, Cosmo and Galbraith join forces to uncover the shadowy figure behind the deadly conspiracy.

Can the star-crossed couple bring down a killer before the dark threat extinguishes love’s flame?

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – B

I Buried a Witch is book two in Josh Lanyon’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks series, and it picks up just a couple of weeks after the events of book one, Mainly by Moonlight. Because all three books are linked by an overarching plot, it’s fairly safe to say that this one doesn’t really work as a standalone. The author does include a bit of backstory and information about book one, but I think listeners will be best served by listening to the books in order so as to get the full picture.

Mainly by Moonlight introduced us to Cosmo Saville, antiques dealer and witch, and his fiancé John Galbraith, the newly appointed Police Commissioner for San Francisco. The story kicks off when Cosmo finds a business rival dead at his shop and after that it’s an almost non-stop few days of mayhem when one of Cosmo’s friends is left in a coma following a hit-and-run, one of his oldest friends disappears, he learns of the existence of a secret society that threatens the existence of the Craft (as witches are known) – and to top it all, someone tries to kill him on his wedding day. Oh, and there’s just one other problem that could put paid to the life he’s looking forward to building with the man he loves. Cosmo hasn’t told John he’s a witch. Oops.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings (Black & Blue #1) by Lily Morton

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Levi Black is at a crossroads. After suffering a loss and breaking up a long-term relationship, he’s looking for a change. When he receives the news he’s inherited a house in York, he seizes the opportunity to begin a new chapter in his life.

However, when he gets there, he finds a house that has never kept its occupants for very long. Either through death or disinclination, no one stays there, and after a few days of living in the place, Levi can understand why. Strange noises can be heard at all hours of the day and night, and disturbing and scary things begin to happen to him. He never believed in ghosts before, but when events take a sinister turn, he knows he must look for help. He finds it in the unlikely form of the blue-haired leader of a ghost tour.

Blue Billings is edgy, beautiful, and lost. Utterly lost. He conceals so many secrets that some days it’s a miracle he remembers his own name. He knows that he should ignore Levi because he threatens the tenuous grip Blue has on survival. But there’s something about the kind-eyed man that draws Blue to him. Something that demands he stay and fight for him when he would normally run in the opposite direction.

As the two men investigate the shocking truth behind Levi’s house, they also discover a deep connection that defies the short length of time they’ve known each other. But when events escalate and his life is on the line, Levi has to wonder if it was wise to trust the Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings.

Rating: B+

In a departure from her usual m/m contemporary romance fare, Lily Morton has embarked upon a new series of paranormal romances featuring The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings, a psychic with a tragic past, dark secrets and a big heart he’s kept under wraps for years.  The book is part ghost story, part romance, and the author certainly knows how to bring the spooky – so you might want to make sure you’re reading it in a well-lit room! The things I so enjoy about her contemporary romances – complex, likeable characters, snark, tenderness, steamy sexytimes and authentic British-ness – are all here too, and it’s a winning combination.

Levi Black has relocated from London to York, where he has inherited a house in a prime location not far from the Minster.  He knows little about the house, other than it belonged to a cousin of some sort, and that it was bequeathed to his mother; and now his mother has passed away it belongs to him.  Eager to make a fresh start after breaking up with his partner of five-years (who cheated on him), Levi is determined to fix the house up (it’s not been lived in for years) and make it his home, in spite of some odd noises coming from upstairs and the rather nervous demeanour of the solicitor who meets him there to hand over the keys.  Levi had hoped to be able to stay in the house while the work is completed, but the place is in a worse state than he’d thought, so he moves into an hotel for the duration.

Six months later, Levi is finally able to move in and quickly makes himself at home – although he’s at a loss to explain the pervasive scent of lily of the valley, and the sudden banging of the open doors and windows that he’s sure he’s closed and latched.  Later that evening, he’s surprised to discover his house on the route of one of York’s many ghost tours – surprised and embarrassed when he wanders downstairs naked to find a group of people staring at him through the kitchen window! – and to hear it referred to as the ‘Murder House’ by the tour guide, a strikingly attractive young man with vivid blue hair whom Levi has seen around town a few times.

Waking up the next morning to a freezing cold house – all the windows have been thrown open and the boiler has been switched off – Levi decides he needs to find out more about the history of his new home, so that night, he waits for the tour to pass by and tags along, intending to question the guide at the end. Over a drink, the guide – Blue – tells Levi the gruesome story behind the Murder House, but becomes quickly withdrawn when Levi expresses his scepticism about ghosts and the spirit world.

But as more inexplicable things start to happen and an inexorable aura of darkness and dread descends on the house, Blue realises that Levi needs help of the sort only he can provide.  He’s a psychic and is able to see the spirits that move among the living of the city, many of whom seem intent on communicating with him. The problem is that he has never really worked out how to hear as well as see them; he has never honed his talent and for the first time, finds himself regretting that, as it leaves him unable to help Levi as much as he would like.

The romance between Levi and Blue is a lovely slow-burn and I really liked both central characters, who are very, very different, but who just click together to make a perfect fit.  Blue has had a tough life, ending up in care and then homeless at thirteen and doing what he had to in order to survive on the streets.  He’s prickly and defensive, scared of emotional attachments because they never last; but when he finally lets his guard down around Levi he’s revealed to have a huge capacity for love.  Levi is an absolute sweetie; honest and caring, he’s fascinated by Blue and wildly attracted to him, but doesn’t think someone so gorgeous and unusual could possibly be interested in someone as ordinary as he is, while Blue, of course, thinks a guy like Levi is way out of his league and is surprised at his impulse to protect and help him.  There’s a definite spark of attraction between them from the moment they meet, but their relationship develops slowly, as a genuine friendship first and then evolving into something more.

Levi is grieving the death of his mother around six months earlier, and Ms. Morton handles the subject with a great deal of sensitivity; the scene in which Blue takes Levi to see a stained glass window in one of York’s oldest churches is just so lovely:

“I think this is what grief is really like. After we lose someone, we’re like this window. We’re broken in pieces. Eventually we put ourselves back together, but it’s never the same as the original us. Instead, we’re a jumbled-up version with funny angles and new faces to show the world.” He turns to face the window. “Still beautiful and still whole. But just in a new way.”

I loved crotchety Tom, the owner of the bookshop where Blue has spent many hours – Levi isn’t wrong when he says he’s what Blue will probably be in his sixties! – I hope we’ll see more of him and Blue’s friend Will in future books.  And York itself feels like character in the story given the author’s wonderfully vivid descriptions of the city and its history; it’s a beautiful place full of wonderful old buildings and bursting at the seams with character and it’s easy to picture the old bookshop tucked away in sight of the Minster and the narrow cobbled streets.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but near the end both Levi and Blue veer rather close to TSTL territory, which caused me to knock off half a grade-point.  It’s hard to explain without venturing into spoiler territory; let’s just say that maybe Levi’s Scooby-Doo references weren’t too far off the mark!

That said however, I’m still giving The Mysterious and Amazing Blue Billings a strong recommendation.  The characters are likeable, the romance is sweet and sexy, and the banter is spot on; and although the mystery is perhaps a tad predictable, the ghost story is well done and the spooky parts are downright creepy!

I’m looking forward to reading more about Black & Blue.

Mainly by Moonlight (Bedknobs & Broomsticks #1) by Josh Lanyon (audiobook) – Narrated by Kale Williams

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A gay high-society wedding. A stolen book of spells. A love-threatening lie.

Can a witch avoid a murder rap without revealing the supernatural truth? Cosmo Saville guiltily hides a paranormal secret from his soon-to-be husband. And if he can’t undo a powerful love spell, uncertainty threatens his nuptial magic. But when he’s arrested for allegedly killing a longtime rival, he could spend his honeymoon behind bars.

Police Commissioner John Joseph Galbraith never believed in love until Cosmo came along. Falling head over heels for the elegant antiques dealer is an enchantment he never wants to break. So, when all fingers point to Cosmo’s guilt, John races to prove his fiancée’s innocence before they take their vows.

As Cosmo searches for the real killer among the arcane aristocracy, John warns him to leave it to the police. But with an unseen enemy threatening to expose Cosmo’s true nature, the couple’s blissful future could shatter like a broken charm. Can Cosmo find the lost grimoire, clear his name, and keep John’s love alive, or will black magic “rune” their wedding bells?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – B

Josh Lanyon’s paranormal mystery/romance Bedknobs and Broomsticks series is a little bit different to her normal fare. Mainly by Moonlight, the first book (of three), is a fun and mostly light-hearted tale in which San Francisco antiques dealer Cosmo Saville – who also happens to be a witch – finds himself suspected of murder just a few days before his wedding to the city’s Police Commissioner, John Galbraith. In the course of the story, listeners are introduced to the magical society of the Craft and its hierarchy, and to an interesting principal and secondary cast; but please note that the book sets in motion a number of plot points that will run across all three instalments, so listeners will need to listen to all three books in order to experience the whole of the story.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Graveyard Shift (Not Dead Yet #3) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Ghost/god Wes Cooper and his not-life partner, vampire Hudson Rojas, have settled into cohabitation in an upscale part of Toronto. So what if their hoity-toity new neighbors haven’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat for the paranormal pair? Their PI business is booming, and when a suspect they’ve been tailing winds up in the morgue, it’s alongside a rash of other shifters in apparent drug-related fatalities.

Now Wes and Hudson must connect the dots between the shifter deaths and an uptick in brutal vampire attacks across the city. Throw in a surprise visit from Hudson’s niece—who may or may not be on the run from European paranormal police (who may or may not exist)—and guardianship of a teen shifter who might be the key to solving the whole mystery (if only she could recover her memory), and Wes and Hudson have never been busier…or happier.

But when a nightmare from Hudson’s past comes back to haunt him, their weird, little found family is pushed to the brink. Mucking this up would mean Hudson and Wes missing their second chance at happily-forever-afterlife…

Rating: A

 

Graveyard Shift is book three in Jenn Burke’s original and entertaining Not Yet Dead series of paranormal romances, and is a satisfying and poignant send off for Wes, Hudson and their found-family of witches, vampires and other supernatural beings.  While each book in the set could work as a standalone, I’d advise reading them in order so as to gain the best understanding of the events and character backstories that have led them to the point at which we meet them again in Graveyard Shift.  If you haven’t yet started the series, please be advised that there are spoilers for the other books in this review.

It’s been almost a year since not-ghost Wes Cooper was reunited with his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, thirty years after they split up.  Almost a year since Wes was turned into a god when he, Hudson and their friends foiled an attempt by a demon to return to the living plane, and almost a year since Hudson retired from the Toronto PD to become a private investigator.  Following the events of the previous book, Wes and Hudson are living together in their new home – a large house with plenty of room for the new family they’ve created – the business is going well, they’re very much in love and they’re living their best not-lives, happier than they’ve ever been.

When the story begins, Wes and Hudson are on a stakeout at the behest of Ren Oshiro, vampire and a former… associate of Hudson’s who’s become something of a friend in recent months.   Walter Gordon is a junior accountant in a firm Ren owns who has recently begun buying things he shouldn’t be able to afford and Ren wants to know if he’s stealing from the company. Wes and Hudson follow Gordon to a restaurant and Wes – in his ghostly form – observes him receiving a package that looks like it contains drugs.  Dealing would certainly explain Gordon’s new-found wealth, and Wes and Hudson continue to follow him until he loses control of his car, crashes  into a tree and dies on impact.

Before they can really think too much about what happened, Wes and Hudson return home to find a few random visitors on their doorstep, something that’s become a regular occurrence since news of Wes’ godhood circulated among the paranormal community.  Two of their visitors are the Garcias, a shifter couple anxious for news of their daughter, who disappeared a couple of days earlier; and the third introduces herself as Priya Rojas.  Hudson’s niece.  Whom he hasn’t seen in years.

When Wes and Hudson discover that there have been several drug overdoses in the shifter community over the past week, they start to realise that there’s something seriously wrong.  ‘Normal’ drugs don’t work on supernatural creatures – even when taken in huge amounts, their magic protects them from the worst effects – so for five shifters to die of overdoses within a week of one another is suspicious (to say the least) and can’t be a coincidence.  Someone is manufacturing a drug tailored specifically to paranormals… but is it designed to get them high?  Or kill them?

And as if a spate of shifter deaths caused by an unknown drug from an unknown source isn’t bad enough, Hudson’s former boss, Katrina Li, calls the pair in to consult on a series of recent murders which, from the detail in the photos she shows them, were committed by vampires.  Worse still, the MO appears identical to that in the series of murders that saw Hudson going undercover twenty years earlier with what, at the time, he believed was a biker gang – and which saw him being turned into a vampire against his will by the gang’s leader, Pike.  But Hudson killed Pike and the whole band when he eventually managed to free himself from his sire’s influence – so it’s not possible that Pike could be responsible for this latest murder spree.  But if not him… then who?

Wes and Hudson are plunged back into a world of trouble, with danger coming at them from all directions, and it’s not always easy to work out who is friend and who is foe.  With someone killing shifters, the sudden appearance of a load of brand new baby vampires, the even more unexpected appearance of the Order of the Onyx Shield, (the paranormal police), the presence of demons and werewolves… there’s a lot going on in this story, but Jenn Burke does an absolutely fantastic job of keeping things moving as she skilfully pulls her various plot-threads together.  I won’t lie – there are some intense and upsetting scenes in this book (I was in tears at least once) and at times, it seems as though our heroes are going to break under the strain and the weight of grief, but Wes, Hudson and their band are stubborn fuckers who don’t give up easily, and it’s time for Wes, “god of who knew, winning hearts and minds since 2019” to come into his own.

The story is fast-paced and utterly compelling, but once again, what sets this book – and this series – apart from your run-of-the-mill mystery or paranormal novel are the characters and the relationships that have evolved between them.  Wes, Hudson, Lexi, Evan and Isk have bonded together to form a family of sorts and Hudson, estranged from his blood-family and someone who’s been alone for the past couple of decades, has gone from that grumpy loner to a guy who is tuned into his family and happy beyond words to have those connections.  (He’s still grumpy sometimes though – which Wes generally thinks is cute;) ) And then there’s Wes;  funny, endearing, vulnerable and snarky Wes, who loves his people fiercely and has grown a lot throughout the series, having moved from not wanting to know much about the paranormal world he’s a part of to learning to accept the godhood that was thrust upon him at the end of Not Dead Yet and how to use his magic. Like Hudson, he’s grown from a man who lived his life mostly in isolation to one who has gained a family and friends he would do anything to protect.  And now it’s time for him to step up, to make some difficult decisions… and he’s simply awesome.

Graveyard Shift delivered everything I’ve come to expect from this series; an exciting, fast-paced plot, detailed worldbuilding, superbly developed characters and relationships and plenty of humor and snark with a side of steam.  I can’t deny that I would love to read more stories set in the Not Dead Yet universe, but if this is the last we’re going to see of Wes and Hudson, then this is a brilliant farewell and I’m absolutely delighted to have been able to join them on  their journey back to one another.

TBR Challenge: Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin #1) by Jordan L. Hawk

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A reclusive scholar. A private detective. And a book of spells that could destroy the world.

Love is dangerous. Ever since the tragic death of the friend he adored, Percival Endicott Whyborne has ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man. Instead, he spends his days studying dead languages at the museum where he works. So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible.

Griffin left the Pinkertons after the death of his partner. Now in business for himself, he must investigate the murder of a wealthy young man. His only clue: an encrypted book that once belonged to the victim.

As the investigation draws them closer, Griffin’s rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne’s iron control. But when they uncover evidence of a powerful cult determined to rule the world, Whyborne must choose: to remain safely alone, or to risk everything for the man he loves.

Rating: B

Like so many of the books I end up reading for the TBR Challenge each year, Jordan L. Hawk’s paranormal/romantic suspense Whyborne & Griffin series is one I’ve been meaning to read for AGES, so this prompt was just what I needed to galvanise me into reading book one, Widdershins.

Percival Endicott Whyborne comes from a very wealthy family – his father is a railroad baron – but didn’t want to go into the business (as his older brother did) and is thus somewhat estranged from his family.  His mother has been unwell for years and he doesn’t get on with his father, who disapproves of his choice to dedicate himself to comparative philology (Whyborne is fluent in thirteen languages and can read more,) scholarship and a job in the Department of Antiquities at the Ladysmith Museum in Widdershins, Massachusetts.  He keeps himself very much to himself, never really having got the hang of social interaction, and ruthlessly suppresses his attraction to men,  still haunted by thoughts of the first boy he ever loved and blaming himself for his tragic death.  He has only one real friend, Dr. Christine Putnam, a fiercely intelligent, independently minded archaeologist who won’t let him hide himself away all the time, and who, it must be said, has some of the best lines in the book:

“I will not surrender my profession simply because men throughout history have been unduly enamored of their penises!“

(this said in response to a male colleague seeking to prevent her looking at a papyrus fragment depicting a fellow “… in rather an excited state.” )

The appearance of ex-Pinkerton detective Griffin Flaherty at the museum upsets Whyborne’s carefully maintained equilibrium.  Flaherty been asked to investigate the death of Philip Rice, son of the museum’s director who, the day before he died, sent a small, leather-bound book to his father which Griffin has brought to the museum – specifically to Whyborne – to have translated in order to see if its contents have any bearing on Philip’s death.  Although Whyborne is supposed to be working on deciphering some ancient scrolls which are due to be displayed in an upcoming exhibition, he agrees, wanting nothing more than to get the translation done and get rid of the handsome, too-friendly detective who is far too tempting for his peace of mind.

Whyborne’s efforts quickly reveal the book to be an Arcanorum, a book of arcane spells and alchemical treatises which details many occult rituals, not least of which is one able to bring back the dead.  As strange things start happening – from grave robbing to the appearance of mysterious and terrifying beasts, to break-ins at the museum  and the discovery of a powerful and ancient cult – Whyborne and Griffin are drawn into an investigation that will test them both to the limit and force them both to confront some of their darkest fears.

I enjoyed the story, which is immensely readable and entertaining, and I really liked the two central characters, reclusive, gawky Whyborne, and the more outgoing Griffin, whose handsome, charming exterior hides insecurities and emotional damage of his own.  While the story is related entirely from Whyborne’s PoV, the author does a terrific job of showing us Griffin through his eyes, although of course, Whyborne fails to notice the other man’s interest in him because he’s become so used to believing himself to be dull, awkward and unattractive.  But Griffin is smitten from the start; he obviously finds Whyborne’s shyness endearing and is also able to see beyond the bumbling scholar to the courageous, brilliant man beneath, his feelings made clear by the way he treats Whyborne with the sort of courtesy and respect he has never received from anyone before.

Their relationship starts as a slow, smouldering burn, with lots of longing looks and glancing touches, but after that, it moves fairly quickly – perhaps just a little bit too quickly – from that initial frisson to emotional commitment.  As this is the first book in a long running series (the eleventh and final book has just been published), the author could have perhaps taken a little more time to get them to the the ILYs.  I liked them as a couple and liked the way they come to know each other and talk about their pasts; the romance is both sweet and sexy as Griffin gradually coaxes Whyborne from his shell and Whyborne starts to allow someone beyond the emotional walls he’s so carefully constructed.  I just would have liked there to have been a little more time spent building an emotional connection between that initial slow burn and the declarations.  Delayed gratification and all that 😉

The plot, with its Lovecraftian influences and overtones, is a mix of suspense and supernatural horror, full of scary monsters, spooky goings-on (and a fair few “eeew!” moments) and a charismatic though creepy AF villain. The story is well-paced, with plenty of action interspersed among the more intimate and introspective moments, and moves inexorably towards a high-stakes climax which, while perhaps a tad predictable is nonetheless exciting.

In spite of my reservations about the romance and some aspects of the plot, I enjoyed Widdershins and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Dying isn’t what it used to be.

Wes Cooper was dead. Then he wasn’t-though he’s not exactly alive, either. As an immortal not-ghost, he can transition between this world and the otherplane, which makes him the perfect thief for hire. For 70 years he’s made a “living” returning items to their rightful owners, seeing his fair share of the bizarre in the process. But he’s never witnessed murder. Until now.

His latest mission brings him more than he bargained for: a very-dead actor who is definitely going to stay that way. It’s just Wes’s luck that his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, is assigned to the case. Hudson broke Wes’s heart years ago – and could again, given he’s rocking a hot silver-fox look that shouldn’t be legal.

As they work together to track down the murderer before anyone else gets hurt, it becomes clear Wes and Hudson have unfinished business. And when a secret Hudson’s been keeping threatens more than just their happiness, it might mean the end of their not-life together – permanently.

Rating: Narration: A+; Content: A-

I know some audio listeners who prefer not to listen to books they’ve already read in print, but I’m the opposite – if I enjoy reading something, I’m always up for experiencing it again, and as I don’t have much time for re-reading, audio is the perfect way for me to return to a favourite story. Of course, sometimes I don’t do that because there are some narrators I dislike listening to, but when a favourite book gets paired up with a favourite narrator – Bring. It. On! Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet is a funny, sexy and exciting paranormal romantic mystery with a unique premise; I loved it when I read it earlier this year, and loved it just as much in audio – which, given it’s narrated by the ever fabulous Greg Boudreaux – will come as a surprise to exactly no-one.

Wes Cooper is a ghost. Well, no, he’s not. But he’s not alive either. Back in 1933, he was shot and killed by his lover Michael (in a suicide pact gone wrong), but Michael’s sister was a witch who cast a spell to bring Wes back to life. The spell worked wonderfully – in fact, it worked TOO well, because not only did it bring Wes back, it made him immortal and left him with the ability to exist in both the living plane and the otherplane, the shadowy place between the living world and the world beyond, and to effortlessly slip between the two.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Gentleman Wolf (Capital Wolves #1) by Joanna Chambers

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An elegant werewolf in Edinburgh…

1788. When Lindsay Somerville, the most elegant werewolf in Paris, learns that the man who held him in abject captivity for decades is on his way to France, intent on recapturing him, he knows he must leave the Continent for his own safety. Lindsay cannot take the risk of being recaptured—he may have been free for a century but he can still feel the ghost of his old chains under his fine clothes.

… on a mission…

While he’s in Edinburgh, Lindsay has been tasked with acquiring the “Naismith Papers”, the writings of a long-dead witchfinder. It should be a straightforward mission—all Lindsay has to do is charm an elderly book collector, Hector Cruikshank. But Cruikshank may not be all he seems, and there are others who want the papers.

… meets his match

As if that were not enough, while tracking down the Naismith Papers, Lindsay meets stubborn architect Drew Nicol. Although the attraction between them is intense, Nicol seems frustratingly determined to resist Lindsay’s advances. Somehow though, Lindsay can’t seem to accept Nicol’s rejection. Is he just moonstruck, or is Nicol bonded to him in ways he doesn’t yet understand?

Rating: B+

After a few recent forays into contemporary romance, Joanna Chambers returns to historicals and to the city of Edinburgh for her latest novel, Gentleman Wolf, the first in her Capital Wolves Duet.  As the title suggests, this is a story with a touch of the paranormal, although the paranormal elements are fairly low-key, so if you’re looking for a full-blown shifter story, it might not be the book for you.  I should also point out that there is no HEA – or even HFN – in this book, but the second part of the duet (Master Wolf) is due to be published in early 2020, so there’s not too long to wait for the conclusion to the story.

When readers first meet Lindsay Somerville, he’s an abject slave; imprisoned, debased and badly used by a master he has no power to disobey and unable to end his suffering by seeking his own death. A former soldier in the Covenanter army, Lindsay was captured and brought before Duncan MacCormaic who, in a cruel act of frustration and warped revenge, turned Lindsay into a two-natured creature, a man with a powerful beast inside him that the moon could draw out.  Chained and forced to wear a silver collar that prevents his inner wolf from ever finding its way out, Lindsay knows that nothing awaits him but further pain and degradation – until something he’d never dared hope for happens and he’s rescued by a couple he can immediately identify as wolves from their scent.  They take Lindsay to Europe, and although time and distance lessen the unwanted bond between him and his ‘maker’, MacCormaic continues to make attempts to recapture him.

Over a century later finds Lindsay living contentedly in Paris with his rescuers, Francis Neville and his dear friend Marguerite.  It’s been a decade since Duncan last tried to find him, but Marguerite has news that chills Lindsay to the bone; Duncan is on his way to Paris and is expected to arrive in a matter of weeks.  To make sure Lindsay is well away by then, she asks him to undertake some business for her in Edinburgh, namely to meet with collector Hector Cruickshank and negotiate the purchase of a series of documents known as the Naismith Papers, a set of notes and papers pertaining to a number of witch trials that had taken place throughout Scotland some two hundred years earlier.

So Lindsay returns to Edinburgh, surprised to find the place still feels and smells like home after an absence of more than a hundred years, but also keen to complete his task and return to Paris once it’s safe for him to do so.  He arrives at the appointed time for his meeting with Cruickshank only to find another gentleman also waiting – and is completely unprepared for the coup de foudre that strikes him at sight of that other man, who introduces himself as Drew Nicol, the architect who has designed a house for Cruickshank in the rapidly growing New Town area of Edinburgh.

Lindsay is utterly smitten with the handsome but somewhat dour Mr. Nicol and decides to amuse himself a little by attempting to draw the man out.  At this stage, even he doesn’t quite understand what amounts to a near compulsion to find ways to spend time in Drew’s company, and his initial attempts to do so come off as just a bit selfish, as Drew is clearly uncomfortable with Lindsay’s amorous overtures.  I admit I was reminded a little of the pairing of the hardworking, closeted lawyer David Lauriston with the worldly, pleasure-seeking aristocrat Murdo Balfour employed to such good effect in Ms. Chambers’ earlier Enlightenment trilogy, although here, the PoV character is the hedonistic Lindsay rather than the quieter and obviously unhappy Drew.

Just as Lindsay is strongly drawn to Drew, so the reverse is true, no matter how torn Drew is over his attraction to a man, let alone one so obviously not of his world and who has already made clear his intention to leave the city in a few short weeks.  The author develops their relationship beautifully as Drew hesitantly allows himself to acknowledge his wants and needs and to act on them, imbuing their interactions with a palpable longing and sensuality that considerably heightens the poignancy of the book’s ending.

The secondary cast isn’t large, but Francis, Marguerite and Wynne, Lindsay’s devoted manservant, are all well-defined and have important roles to play within the story; and as always, the author’s descriptions of the Edinburgh of the time bring the place so wonderfully to life in all its ugliness and splendour that it’s like another character in the book.

An air of foreboding permeates the entire novel and only increases when Lindsay finally meets the shifty Cruickshank, who is clearly up to no good. The pacing is fairly leisurely on the whole, but it never drags as we build towards a shocking climax that leaves Drew and Lindsay at odds despite the nature of the bond that’s already developed between them.

Gentleman Wolf is a highly entertaining and engrossing read and one I can recommend wholeheartedly.  The writing is beautifully atmospheric, the characterisation is excellent, the story is most intriguing and the ending is equal parts frustrating and heart-breaking. I’m really looking forward to learning how everything plays out in Master Wolf when it’s released in January.