Narrated by Tom Carter
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Think of England ever since I learned that Audible Studios was going to be releasing a number of K.J. Charles’ backlist titles in audio. It’s one of my favourite books of hers (one of my favourite books, full-stop, actually) and while I admit to a bit of trepidation when I saw that an unknown narrator had been used, I’m pleased to be able to say that on the whole, Tom Carter does a pretty good job.
The story is set in 1904, and opens with former army captain Archie Curtis arriving at Peakholme, near Newcastle, for a house-party given by Sir Hubert Armstrong, a wealthy industrialist. Curtis was invalided out of the army after losing three fingers and sustaining a serious knee injury at Jacobsdal in South Africa, occasioned when a faulty batch of guns backfired and exploded, also maiming and killing a number of his men.
The manufacturer of the faulty ordnance, one Mr. Lafayette, was subsequently ruined but insisted that the guns had been sabotaged by his closest business rival – Sir Hubert Armstrong. Lafayette had tried to approach Archie’s uncle, Sir Henry Curtis* to ask for his help in uncovering the truth, but with Sir Henry away on expedition, it was a stunned Archie who heard the desperate man’s tale of woe. He has inveigled an invitation to the Armstrongs’ party to see what he can find out; if Lafayette’s tale of sabotage and betrayal is true, then Sir Hubert could very well be guilty of treason, and Curtis is determined to obtain justice for his men.
Other guests at the house party include Armstrong’s son and some of his friends, Lady Armstrong’s brother and sister-in-law, and a handsome, dark-eyed, olive skinned and obviously queer poet by the name of Daniel da Silva, whom Curtis dislikes on sight. There’s no denying the man is witty, but he’s too affected and too … obvious about his tastes – and he makes the conventional Curtis very uncomfortable.
I’m not going to say much about the plot, which thickens quickly with the revelations that the Armstrongs have their fingers in a number of very lucrative and very illegal pies, their shady dealings spinning out into a web much more far-reaching than Curtis could ever have imagined. Even more surprising to Archie is the discovery that Daniel da Silva is not at all what he seems (on one level at least); that he, too, has come to Peakholme in order to uncover the truth behind the Armstrongs’ nefarious schemes. The plot is well-constructed and engaging; and Ms. Charles really knows how to ratchet up the tension as Curtis begins to understand the level of danger he and da Silva face should Sir Hubert become aware of their investigations. But the real heart of the story is the beautifully tender, sometimes awkward but sexy romance that burgeons between the upstanding, straightforward ex-officer and the effete, bohemian poet.
Curtis, a big, blond bear of a man, can’t account for the way da Silva so easily discomposes him, and I loved the way in which he gradually come to appreciate Daniel’s wit, intelligence and skills. There’s a lovely moment when Archie picks up a volume of Daniel’s poetry, and though he doesn’t quite understand it, he nonetheless appreciates it and the mind that produced it – and this leads to an exchange of witticisms that likewise awakens Daniel to the fact that there’s more to Curtis than the dull, stiff-upper-lip type Daniel had assumed him to be. Like most young men of the time, Curtis grew up in all-male environments, going from school to university to the army, and he has never really thought about his sexual tastes and preferences, simply thinking of himself as a “normal chap who, now and then, enjoyed encounters with other chaps.” Daniel’s flamboyance, his affected drawl, his very obvious “campness” … all these horrify Archie, who doesn’t equate his own experience with “other chaps” with homosexuality – until circumstances (heh) force him to think about it and put two and two together.
Daniel is clever, moody and sarcastic, using his queerness to hide in plain sight, and using people’s perceptions of his sexuality and his Jewishness to manipulate them into letting their guard down around him and into dismissing him as harmless. (I’ll point out here that there is some denigrating and unpleasant language used about Daniel which is undoubtedly appropriate for the time, but which today is (rightly) considered offensive.) He’s complex and prickly, hiding a deeply buried vulnerability that hints at past hurts, using his sharp tongue to push people away before they can get too close.
Curtis and da Silva are about as opposite as it’s possible to be, from different backgrounds, different cultures and with very different life experiences – and yet the attraction between them is completely believable and they are simply wonderful together.
Tom Carter is a new-to-me narrator, and unless – as I suspect – that is a pseudonym, this is only the second audiobook he has recorded. Taking a chance on an unknown narrator is always a bit of a risk but I’m pleased to say that this is one of those times it paid off; while I do have a few quibbles with Mr. Carter’s performance overall, he acquits himself well. His voice is easy on the ear, with an attractive, slightly husky note, and his pacing in the narrative is very good – although there were times the dialogue felt a little rushed and he could have paused a fraction longer when switching between characters during conversations. He differentiates well between the men in the story, and his portrayals of the two main characters fit very well, although I will admit that his version of da Silva doesn’t sound quite the way I’d imagined him and I thought there should have been a bit more of a difference between the public Daniel – the drawling, sharp-tongued, camp poet – and the private one, the competent, knowledgeable spy. Mr. Carter is spot on with Curtis, though and captures his essential decency, his honesty and his determination perfectly. On the downside, there are a number of mispronunciations which should have been picked up and fixed in post-production, and Mr. Carter’s female voices need work. There are only three female secondary characters in this story, but they are not easy to tell apart from the men (or each other at times), and I had to rely on the dialogue tags on several occasions to remind myself who was speaking.
On the whole, the scales are tipped towards the positive end of the scale when it comes to the narration – although I couldn’t help wondering what sort of job Matthew Lloyd Davies or Gary Furlong would have made of it.
As I said at the outset, Think of England is a favourite book of mine and I’m pleased there’s now an audio version available to enjoy. Tom Carter delivers a solid, emotionally nuanced performance which, though slightly flawed, is more than good enough to warrant a recommendation.
*A fictional character invented by H. Rider Haggard; Sir Henry Curtis made his first appearance in the novel King Solomon’s Mines.
TITLE: Think of England
AUTHOR: K. J. Charles
NARRATED BY: Tom Carter
GENRE: Historical Romance/Mystery
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: CazBuy Think of England by K. J. Charles on Amazon