Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies
An Unnatural Vice is the second book in K.J. Charles’ Sins of the Cities series, a trilogy set in late Victorian London which revolves around the search for the missing heir to an earldom. Each book features one central couple whose romance is complete by the end, but the overarching story of blackmail, bigamy and murder is carried through each one, so while it’s possible to enjoy the books on their own, I’d recommend starting with book one, An Unseen Attraction to get the best out of the series.
Almost six years earlier, Nathaniel Roy lost the love of his life in a freak accident. Since then – and with the loving support of a number of good friends who include Clem Tallyfer (main protagonist of An Unseen Attraction), he’s put the pieces of his life back together, and channels his focus into his career as a journalist, dedicated to exposing the plight of the poor and shedding light on the shady practices of big business. Emotionally, however, he is frozen, still mourning his sunny-natured, gentle lover and has never, in the years since Tony’s death, felt attraction or desire for another man.
Until the night he sets eyes on Justin Lazarus for the first time.
Lazarus, known as “The Seer of London”, is a much sought-after medium whose ability to commune with the spirit world has brought him both fame and fortune. Nathaniel attends one of his séances as research for a feature he is writing and is determined to expose the man as a fraud. Even so, he is reluctantly impressed by the medium’s flair and skill as well as being frustrated at not being able to work out how Lazarus is manipulating objects around the room without touching them – and appalled at the bolt of lust that shoots through him when Lazarus’ extraordinary grey eyes lock with his. Some of the things Lazarus says that speak to the nature of Nathaniel’s loss both irritate and unnerve him – and he spends the next few days confused and conflicted, his convictions shaken and his mind consumed by thoughts of Lazarus’ words and the stirrings of unwanted attraction he caused.
Justin Lazarus is unapologetic about what he does for a living and refuses to feel guilty for fleecing the rich and gullible who bemoan their losses while happily stepping over beggars in the street. Born in a workhouse to a mother he never knew, Justin grew up on the streets and experienced some of the worst that life has to offer. Everything he has, he worked damned hard for, and nobody is going to tell him what to do or how to live his life ever again.
Justin isn’t surprised when Nathaniel Roy requests a private appointment, and decides to hit hard, enjoying the challenge presented by someone so thoroughly sceptical and deeply disapproving. But when invoking the name of Nathaniel’s dead lover turns an atmosphere already fraught with suppressed lust and not-so-suppressed loathing into something even more oppressive, Justin realises he may have gone too far and made himself an implacable enemy.
When, a few days later, Justin is approached by two men who are seeking information about one Emmeline Godfrey and her two children – twins – Justin recalls the woman who had visited him around a year earlier, desperate to find her children. The men explain that Emmeline and the twins had been part of their “flock” and now that the woman is dead, they are anxious to find the children and care for them. Justin doesn’t believe a word of it, but sensing an opportunity for profit, puts on a show that’s long on effect and short on information, and thinks that’s that. Later, however, he recalls seeing an advertisement in the newspaper asking for information about the same twins – and is intrigued to discover that the person to contact is none other than Nathaniel Roy. He decides to approach Roy with what he knows to see if he can turn the situation to his advantage, but their meeting quickly descends into an erotically charged, vitriolic exchange during which the sexual awareness and desire that has hung thick in the air between the two men since their first meeting explodes into a frenzied physical encounter which continues even as the pair continue to trade increasingly vicious insults.
Both men are shaken by the sheer force of their mutual lust, and agree – sort of – to put what happened behind them. But when Justin requests a return to their earlier conversation about a monetary return for his information, Nathaniel, overcome by anger and self-loathing, orders him out.
Justin is annoyed at himself for misjudging the situation and losing an opportunity to make some money – but discovers he has far bigger problems when his involvement with the Godfrey/Taillefer family plunges him into danger. Amid the swirling, greasy fog of one of the thickest Pea-Soupers to engulf London in a long time, Justin must run for his life – to the only trustworthy person he knows, who also happens to the man who has sworn to expose him as a fraud: Nathaniel Roy.
I rubbed my hands with glee the first time I saw the synopsis for An Unnatural Vice, because I do like a good enemies-to-lovers story. The charlatan and the crusader couldn’t be more different, although as the story progresses, it becomes clear that perhaps Nathaniel and Justin have more in common than they at first thought. Nathaniel is the son of an Archbishop; Justin, a workhouse brat who never knew his parents – yet both of them are intensely lonely men. Nathaniel has good friends, but has been merely going through the motions since Tony’s death, while Justin has deliberately chosen to be dependent on no-one, his solitude the result of believing everything has a price – even kindness and affection.
The chemistry between the pair is electric, and the unlikely affection that grows between them is a delight. Nathaniel still continues to express his disapproval of Justin’s chosen profession, unable to understand why a man gifted with such insight and intelligence would choose to make a living by underhand means. But as he comes to know and appreciate the funny, clever man beneath the prickly exterior, Nathaniel can no longer hide the truth from himself – in spite of everything, he’s falling for the last man on earth he’d ever have expected to love. And Justin finally comes to see that there is such a thing as unconditional love as Nathaniel’s obvious belief in him starts to break through all the barriers he has erected around his emotions.
Matthew Lloyd Davies is on board once again as narrator and delivers another strong and engaging performance. His mid-range, slightly husky baritone is pleasing to the ear, and both narrative and dialogue are well paced with a keen but subtle emphasis on the humour and friendly teasing between Nathaniel and his friends and Justin and his ‘familiars’. His characterisations of the two principals work well, with Nathaniel’s slightly aristocratic drawl carried over from his appearances in the previous book and his deep, resonant tones speaking clearly to the fact that he’s a well-to-do, physically imposing man. Justin’s voice is slightly higher pitched and his accent less polished (as described in the book), and Mr. Lloyd Davies very clearly displays the different sides of his character; the almost preternaturally calm medium/swindler and the spiky former street-rat who spits venom and knows how to use peoples’ weaknesses against them.
I’m also pleased to note that the characters we met in An Unseen Attraction – Clem, Rowley and Mark, for instance – are performed in a manner consistent with their earlier appearances; and that the narrator’s portrayal of Phyllis – Phil – part-owner of The Jack and Knave pub is a hoot.
K.J. Charles once again does a fabulous job of seamlessly weaving the romance and mystery storylines together and of incorporating the sometimes melodramatic elements of the Victorian sensation fiction that’s been her inspiration for this series while creating wonderful stories and characters that are all very much her own. The stage is now set for the final book – An Unsuitable Heir – and I am eagerly awaiting its release this Autumn.
Book Content: A
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance/Mystery
Publisher: Audible Studios
An Unnatural Vice was provided to AudioGals by K. J. Charles for a review.