The Duke of Ivar cared little about his children’s feelings when he married his mistress shortly after his wife’s death. And in this case, time did nothing to improve their relationship – rather the opposite. The duke’s children now have even more reasons to hate their father. And one of them thinks that the duke should pay for what he’s done. And Alex is sure that the only way to get back at the Duke and the new Duchess is to take what they really care about – their jewels. Which is why he hires jewel thief Jerry Crozier. But to get the jewels, they have to get in his father’s castle. That means Alex has to get back in the good graces of his father which is not easy. It also means Alex and Jerry have to get to know each other so that they can pretend to be friends and give Alex a reason to invite Jerry along. Soon Alexander isn’t so sure if he’s just pretending… but there’s also the issue that not everybody was completely honest and there’s far more at stake than expected.
I must say I wasn’t overwhelmed by the romance itself. Partly that is to blame on only getting Alex’s point of view in the story. When I get only one POV in a romance, it often feels as if something is missing and that is especially the case when the character is someone like Jerry who is not the type who talks much about his feelings and also not a person you would like instantly. He comes over as a massive jerk at the beginning and then he softens enough that you won’t want to strangle him immediately but not enough that I felt strongly about wanting him to get a happy end. I did, however, feel strongly about wanting a happy end for Alex and he was clearly smitten with Jerry. For me, that was enough.
And of course, there was also the whole diamond-stealing plot going on and that was brilliant. KJ Charles described it as pulp and there’s no doubt that it is. There’s seemingly impossible tasks, fiendish villains and a variety of unexpected betrayals and twists. If you told me that Edgar Wallace had come up with that plot (minus the gay romance) I wouldn’t have questioned it. But it also much more. While emotions in actual pulp tend to be rather melodramatic, in Any Old Diamonds they’re genuine and raw. I really felt for Alex when he first had to lie to his siblings and tell them he genuinely wanted to reconcile with their father (because he didn’t want to implicate them in case the plan went wrong) and had to deal with their reaction to what they thought was betrayal and then had to grovel to his father and assure him that he deserved all the emotional abuse and neglect just because he didn’t welcome his stepmother with open arms.
There’s also the ending which, of course, gives a HEA for the couple but also left no doubts that even when you’ve found the right person (and the people who did horrible things have finally been punished), negative experiences don’t magically disappear. I’m not saying that there is so much angst that it spoils the happy ending, but it was a lot of angst (even for a KJ Charles book) and the book is not the right choice for a pure escapist read.
Content warnings: murder, death, violence, emotional abuse (mostly alluded to/implied), there are multiple references to a dark secret that made me think of sexual abuse at first but turned out to be something different