K.J. Charles starts a new series with The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, an historical gay romance set in rural Kent, England. Gareth and Joss are together for a couple of blissful weeks at a London meeting house for gay men, but when Joss says he needs to go back to Kent for a while to tend to his business, Gareth breaks things off entirely. Gareth's father, a selfish nobleman, left young Gareth with his uncle when his mother died and started a new family. Gareth quite reasonably has abandonment issues and doesn't want to be left by another person he loves.
Fast forward and Lord Inglis has died, leaving his title and assets to newly unemployed Gareth, who has no memory of his family's estate and doesn't know his would-be stepmother or half-sister. Adrift and trying to adjust to his new situation, Gareth spots a late-night smuggling operation and decides to report it to the authorities. Enter Joss Doomsday, lead of the Doomsday family and smuggler extraordinaire. Because, of course, Gareth's estate is in the same rural area where Joss lives.
What follows is a complicated web of deceit, theft, messy family and a bit of murder. K.J. Charles expertly balances the mystery and danger with insightful family reconciliation, strong character arcs for both men and an absolutely wonderful romance.
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen is more romance-forward than Charles's other mystery series and is a self-contained volume with plenty of opportunities for sequels. (The second Doomsday book will follow different characters.)
I know marketers are eager to tack "Bridgerton" on to any historical romance these days, but please don't listen. I'm also not convinced that "gothic" is the right term for this novel. No spooky house or paranormal-ish shadowy figures lurking about. In this case, readers who like historical romance with mystery, Charles's other works, Cat Sebastian's London Highwaymen series or Poldark will want to pick this up.
Audio Notes: Dreamscape hired a new-to-me narrator for the book, Martyn Swain. While I mostly liked the narration, it took some getting used to. Swain pauses frequently after words, which makes for stilted sentences that were difficult for me to sort out. Once I adjusted, however, I enjoyed the story and found the way Swain differentiated between the two main characters successful. His attempt at a Georgia, US accent for Joss's formerly enslaved grandfather was less successful, but how many times have I suffered through a US narrator's awful British accents? Overall a lovely audiobook.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher for review.
Content Warnings: childhood abandonment, child abuse, alcoholism, murder, violence, kidnapping, attempted murder, references to US slavery (formerly enslaved character in Joss's family) and war with France, threat of sexual assault to Gareth's sister, past death of parent, attempted drowning