An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles is one of those books that everyone seems to love - so when I noticed my digital acquisitions librarian ordered it for work, I was keen to check it out. Which I did. Twice. Let me explain. I started reading it but didn't finish it before my check-out expired. So I put myself back on the wait list to check it out a second time. In between the book went on sale at retailers for 99 cents. And my reaction? "Meh, I'll just wait for the work copy to come back around."
So, yeah. I couldn't be bothered to spend 99 cents on this, even after I had read the first 5 chapters. Even I'm not typically that frugal.
Which begs the question, "Why go back and finish it?" Well, at the time my check-out expired the mystery subplot was finally kicking in - and my interest was starting to pick up. But, yeah - up until that point? It was almost a DNF out of disinterest.
Clem Talleyfer is a half-Indian bastard son, so he's grateful to his brother for setting him up running a London lodging-house. His brother's only stipulation? That the Reverend Lugtrout has a room, free of charge, for as long as he wishes. This is a trial for Clem since Lugtrout is a disagreeable drunk who flouts house rules. The man is an insufferable jackass. But Clem is dealing with him as best he can. Besides, it's another of the residents that has him distracted - Rowley Green, a taxidermist who has a shop right next door. Rowley is a loner, in part because people find his profession rather ghoulish, but also his traumatic past has left him a bit skittish. However he's drawn to Clem's calm, quiet manner and his devastating good looks. Naturally a relationship blossoms, only to have the whole thing upended when the odious Lugtrout is found murdered and Rowley's shop is burglarized.
I had a hard time sinking into this story and it's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why. I suspect it's because there's a fair amount of set-up in the early chapters. It's Rowley and Clem tap-dancing around each other, going to the theater, Clem fretting over Lugtrout and a lot of taxidermy talk - which frankly I could have done without. Yes, it's an art form - but dude, some of us find stuffed animals creepy. And while I appreciate that Charles gives one of her heroes an interesting profession and that she obviously did her research....
I. Don't. Care.
There, I said it.
Frankly I found it a slog to get through.
But once Lugtrout ends up dead, that's when things get interesting. He was an odious man, but to have his tortured dead body left on the doorstep of the boardinghouse reeks of overkill. And then to have Rowley's shop burglarized? I mean, is there a connection? And if so, what could it possibly be? Adding a touch of Victorian melodramatic intrigue, and the already excellent world-building - this was the part of the story that really cooked for me. Charles sets up her world-building extremely well, right down to oppressive fog and characters that read too much Wilkie Collins.
There's plenty of s-e-x in this book, but the romance itself is rather sweet - thanks to Rowley's loner tendencies and Clem being somewhere on the spectrum (although the author flim-flams on this too much for my liking. Am I being fair? Probably not. I mean, this was Victorian London - autism didn't "exist" it's just some people were "odd.") It was also interesting to read Clem's growth over the course of the story. To a fault, he's kind and patient and will bend over backwards for just about anybody. But as the danger heightens in the story, Clem discovers his spine and shows some gumption. Him losing his cool in the later chapters were easily some of my favorite moments in the book.
So we're left with a damning with faint praise reaction. I liked this, but it didn't rivet me and the mystery was more engaging (again, for me) more so than the romance. That said, readers should be warned that while this story is wrapped up somewhat tidily, there's some loose threads left dangling in the mystery that will likely carry their way through the next books in the series. And yep, looks like my digital acquisitions librarian has the next book in the series on order. Bloody hell, of course I have it on hold.
Final Grade = B-