Think of England by K J Charles

think-of-englandRating: 9.5/10 ★★★★★★★★★½ 
Title: Think of England
Author: K J Charles
Genre: Historical m/m, country house mystery
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US $4.50
Other Information/warnings: violence, anti-semitism, racism, explicit sexual content
Summary [from the publisher]:

Lie back and think of England…

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

My review:

When Ms Charles announced this book, I knew I’d love it because I already adored her writing, and the setting and plot were like catnip to me – I love detective novels done well. So I pre-ordered it, and promptly forgot about it. Then when it was favourably reviewed at Dear Author, I thought, ooh – and bought it again 🙂

Never mind. If ever a book was worth buying twice, it’s this one. Meaty plot, fascinating characters, a setting with which I’m familiar, and a historical period where society was in flux, and soon to be upended irreparably by the Great War.

The author loads the dice – even overloads it – against our two heroes ever getting together. Archie Curtis is an officer and a gentleman, literally – a maimed war hero, decent, brave, strong, and so patriotic that you could slice him open and he would bleed red, white and blue.

Daniel da Silva is, apparently, in every way his opposite – a feminised aesthete, a poet and pacifist, gay, willowy and Jewish. Oh, and as the text reminds us rather too frequently, a ‘Dago’ – of Portuguese heritage, a ‘foreigner’ twice over because of his religion and background. And he’s also decidedly not a gentleman.

Yet these two men are brave and resourceful in their own ways, and Curtis soon realises the extent of his misjudgement. They must join forces to uncover dastardly deeds, and to escape a truly terrifying situation.

Ms Charles is a very, very fine writer, with a keen awareness of class distinctions and signifiers. Her research is impeccable, but not obstrusive. If the plot falters at all, it is at the very end which is perhaps the least plausible part of the book, but throughout, she had me completely convinced of the gulf between Archie and Daniel, and the manner of its bridging. The pacing was perfect, and the minor characters were well used and depicted. The two lady friends in the story were simply a delight, and I’d like to see more them, please.

I did have some niggles. Daniel saying “Ooh harsh” at one point rang oddly but was the only possible anachronism to complain about. Archie’s knee injury annoyed me a lot – you simply can’t have a man shot in the knee and be completely recovered two years later, or at all. There was no way for surgeons of this period to repair injuries of this kind – even today, Archie would have been left with limited mobility and inevitable arthritis. So, while it may have been a nod to the recent TV series, “Sherlock”, and Watson’s psychosomatic injuries, as someone who has ‘knees’ myself, I could not suspend disbelief on that score.

More seriously, the lack of critical examination of British Imperialism and colonialism chafed, especially when Archie is a veteran of a particularly bloody, vicious and thoroughly unjust colonial war, and that war forms the underpinning of the plot. Daniel’s pacifism is never explained, and given that it plays into a stereotype of Jewish cowardice, adds unfortunately to the considerable display of antiSemitism by other characters in the book. And as my friend Sunita drew to my attention, the way race, rather than religion – rather artificially separated as issues in the book – is handled, is a misstep. But an honourable failure, because Charles does get so much right, and very skilfully.

I can’t say any of these things bothered me severely at the time of reading – or even rereading – because the book is solid enough to bear a few criticisms (and some fascinating discussion) although I am sympathetic to the idea that Jewish readers and readers of colour will be bothered by them far more than my white privileged self. I still heartily recommend it with those caveats.

Archie and Daniel make fascinating and appealing comrades in arms and in bed, and I will seize the next book with both hands. Probably twice 🙂