The House in Birdgate Alley by Anel Viz
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (113 pgs)
Other: M/M, multiple partners, anal sex
Rating: 4.5 cherries
Reviewed by Foxglove
London, 1889. Dr. John Williams suspects somebody has been blackmailing one of his patients, Sir Hugh Cockburn. The same day, the body of a young man is found floating in the Thames. Mere coincidence, or is there a connection? Willliams’ eccentric cousin, Cyril Fosterby, turns his mind to unraveling the mystery.
From the opening lines, I was pulled in to this enthralling first person story. Our main character starts us out with a preface, a bit of an introduction and his reasons for writing it all down, which I enjoyed because it allowed us to get immediately inside his head, making him a very well-drawn and likable character, a true gentleman.
When Lady Cockburn comes to him with her worries of her husband being blackmailed, Dr. Williams vows to do his best to get to the bottom of things for her, all very discreetly, of course. Then we meet Cousin Cyril, scientist turned amateur detective, who always seems to be a step ahead of Williams, certainly with more experience of the seedier side of London. This leads us to Johnny Rice, a male prostitute and the best friend of Nelly, the young man who was murdered.
Dr. Williams is surprised when he learns from Johnny that not only can a person of the lower classes be intelligent and charming, but that a young man can be beautiful. In order to help Cyril discover Nelly's murderer and exonerate Sir Hugh, Williams and Johnny must spend a great deal of time together, and it's to Dr. Williams' credit that he's willing to change some of his lifelong beliefs in the face of other evidence, including his beliefs about the wrongness of men loving men.
He's also surprised to learn that some other gentlemen of his acquaintance enjoy the sexual attentions of men, and the struggle he goes through, both with this information and his own feelings, are very well done. He didn't have an abrupt overnight change, but it happens realistically over time as he and Johnny get to know each other.
The romance in this story is very subtle, so subtle that it took me some time to realize who would have the main relationship in the story; much more of the focus was on the mystery side. There is only one short scene that could by any stretch of the imagination be called a sex scene, but there are scenes of great tenderness and affection.
The House in Birdgate Alley is a very well-written, throughly enjoyable story that plunges the reader headlong into late 19th century London. I'm very impressed with Anel Viz' ability to write in a style that sounds as if it was written over one hundred years ago, with perfect language, voice, and tone, both for the characters of the upper classes, and for the Cockney voices and sensibilities of the others. Since the story is open-ended, I will be reading other stories by Anel Viz as soon as possible, and hoping for others featuring some of these characters in the future.