Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen
Publisher: Lethe Press
Genre: Historical (WWI)
Length: Full Length (333 pgs)
Other: M/M (Note: NON-erotic)
Rating: 4.5 Cherries
Review by Phlox
New York, 1919. His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after an affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, he heads to New York with no plans and little money, only a desire to call his life his own. Jack Bailey's life has changed as well. After losing his parents in the influenza epidemic, he hopes to save their beloved novelty shop, now his, by advertising on the radio, barely more than a novelty, itself. Sutton lands work in Jack's corner of the city and the two conclude they couldn't be less suited for friendship. But when Sutton loses his job, Jack gives him a place to stay. Sutton returns to the piano to play for Jack and finds the intervening months have healed him. The program promises to rescue Jack's business and Sutton's career... but success brings its own risks for two men falling in love.
Whistling in the Dark is not an erotic tale but a traditional romance in every sense of the word but one. Certainly, there are moments of sensuality, some lovely kisses, some handholding, even (oh, my!) some naked snuggling, but the actual consummation is implied or accomplished off scene.
On to the story – Jack and Sutton are both suffering from the damage done on the front lines of WWI. Sutton returns home to a family who can’t accept him and an injury he has been led to believe signals the death of his career as a concert pianist. His impulsive move to New York, with little money and no prospects, is his answer to the gray, despairing life of a respectable marriage and a dull, corporate job his family wants for him. They believe his homosexuality is an illness brought on by the horrors of war. Jack has come home with a case of shell shock (we’d call it PTSD today) so horrific the little sleep he gets is haunted by shaking nightmares and flashbacks. Oh, and by the way, Jack, sorry it was so awful for you but we have some more bad news, both of your parents died in the flu epidemic while you were in France. These poor boys- the reader knows they need each other, despite the vast differences in their backgrounds and upbringing. Well-rounded, fully formed main characters are a must and these two fit the bill. Add to that a cast of fun, quirky supporting characters and one can’t help be drawn in and held fast.
I often hesitate to read historic romance because of all the possible ways one can be jarred out of the story. A bit of tech that doesn’t belong, dialogue that doesn’t ring true for the times, attitudes or objects that don’t fit the period show up altogether too frequently. Allen, however, has the era down. She either loves this period enough to immerse herself in it or she is somewhere over a hundred years old and lived through it. Cars, music, the impending specter of prohibition, the laws and attitudes surrounding homosexuality, the rise of radio, the clothes, the language, she’s managed it all but only as necessary to the story and never as a history lesson. The only real issue I had with the story was the bit of a slow start after the initial scenes of Sutton’s visit to the police station. Even the issue of Sutton’s dialogue, which struck me as oddly stilted at first, was quickly cleared up as his privileged, sheltered background is revealed.
Read the book and you will, unless you’ve had your heart removed, fall in love with Jack and Sutton, with the neighborhood, and the times. It’s not often that I think about characters after I’ve finished but once in a while a story comes along that tugs at all the right heart strings. I won’t give the ending away, of course, but I will tell you I’m still humming a certain song to myself as I go about my days. You’ll know it when you get there.