Wanted: A Gentleman is a standalone novella from the pen of K.J. Charles in which two very different men undertake a journey to foil an elopement and, along the way, discover that perhaps they’re not so very different after all. The audiobook clocks in at around four-and-a-half hours, but a thoroughly entertaining four-and-a-half hours it is, packing in plenty of social comment, witty dialogue, engaging characters, steamy love scenes and fascinating facts about the rigours of coach travel in Regency England.
Jobbing writer and part-time scribbler of romantic novels, Theodore Swann is the proprietor of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a weekly newssheet in which, for the price of a shilling, men and women can place advertisements extolling their virtues and setting out their requirements for a life partner. Into his dingy office one day bursts Martin St. Vincent, a tall, handsome and obviously well-to-do black man who makes it immediately clear that he is in no mood for pleasantries and explains that he wants to know the identity of one of his advertisers, a man calling himself “Troilus”. This individual has been corresponding with “Cressida”, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant who is his former owner, and her father wants to put a stop to it. St. Vincent is brusque and to the point, cutting through Theo’s sales patter and asking him to name a price for his assistance.
A bargain is struck and Theo takes St. Vincent to the public house where letters to the Advertiser are sent and from whence he retrieves them, in the hope that maybe someone has recognised “Troilus”, but they draw a blank and go their separate ways. A few days later, however, Theo realises that the latest message to “Cressida” is a coded one, and that the couple is planning an elopement. He races to St. Vincent with the news, but by then, it’s too late and the pair has already run away.
Distraught, the lady’s father – Mr Conroy – turns to Martin for help, asking him to follow the girl and bring her home if he can. Martin is torn. As a former slave, his relationship with the family who, by the standards of the day, treated him fairly well, is a difficult one, equal parts resentment, gratitude and anger. But in the end, he doesn’t want to see any harm come to Jennifer Conroy, whom he’d played with and read stories to and watched grow up, and for her sake, agrees to set off in pursuit of the girl and her swain.
But he knows he won’t get very far alone. It’s tricky enough being a black man in fairly cosmopolitan London, but out in the English countryside, where most people will never have seen someone like him, he recognises that it will be difficult for him to do some of the most basic things he needs to do, like hire decent rooms and horses and elicit information easily from the people he meets. Having quickly come to appreciate – albeit reluctantly – Theodore Swann’s quick wit and sharp tongue (among other things), Martin more or less tells Theo he’s going along for the ride, and, after negotiating an exorbitant fee, Theo agrees.
Wanted: A Gentleman is one of those rare novellas from which one comes away feeling almost as though one has experienced a full-length book. The romance develops over a matter of mere days, but the characters are so well-drawn, and their relationship so well-written that it doesn’t feel rushed or truncated. The attraction that sparks between Martin and Theo at the outset grows steadily as they gradually come to know each other better through the insightful and often humorous conversations they have as they travel. Martin, a former slave, doesn’t quite know how to feel about Conroy given he was treated so well compared to so many others, and is surprised when Theo immediately understands:
“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude. Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest. To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”
It’s incredibly perceptive and later in the story acquires an added poignancy when we discover that Theo, though a white man, is as much under the yoke as Martin ever was, and has good reasons for feeling as he does.
Both characters are engaging and well-drawn, and I particularly liked the way that Theo’s work as an author of gothic romances enables Ms. Charles to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about the art of romance writing. As is always with case with her books, the historical element of the story is extremely well-researched and incorporated into the story through the lives of her characters and the situations in which they live.
Narrator Greg Patmore is new-to-me, and a quick search at Audible reveals he has recorded just over a dozen titles in various genres. He delivers a strong performance here, especially in his characterisation of Theo who sounds every bit as waspish, funny and naughty as I remember him from when I read the book earlier this year. Martin is described as having “a remarkably deep voice”, and while Mr. Patmore’s isn’t really in the bass range, he manages to convey a suitable degree of depth and resonance fairly well by lowering both pitch and volume a little and moving closer to the microphone to create a difference in timbre that gives the listener the impression his voice is deeper than it really is. His diction is clear, his pacing is good and his character differentiation is effective all-round, but I did find his phrasing to be a little odd at times; he has a way of introducing an element of hesitation to a phrase or sentence that sometimes works perfectly given what the character is saying, and sometimes feels like affectation. It didn’t bother me all that much, but it’s a noticeable tick that happened often enough to have been more than an occasional error.
If I have a criticism it’s that I wish the story had been longer, but otherwise Wanted: A Gentleman is everything one could want in an historical romance. Funny, sexy, poignant and wonderfully observed, it’s a mighty audio treat in miniature form.
TITLE: Wanted: A Gentleman
AUTHOR: K. J. Charles
NARRATED BY: Greg Patmore
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy Wanted: A Gentleman by K. J. Charles on Amazon