I absolutely adored KJ Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal and would have loved to see more short stories, or even a full-length novel, in that exact same world. While the granting of neither of those wishes would appear to be forthcoming, a series of novels set in Feximal’s world, but some years later, and featuring a new cast of characters (some whose existence was hinted at in the earlier works) is also a Very Good Thing Indeed. Feximal’s story ends more or less with the First World War, and his successors are those who have come through that conflict and are now dealing with its aftermath.
Saul Lazenby is an archaeologist, whose war work brought him into contact with a local man who became his lover and then betrayed him: an act which led to Saul’s imprisonment and his subsequent disgrace and virtual unemployability at the end of the war. The only person to offer him a decent wage is an elderly and quite possibly bonkers military gentleman who sees occult conspiracies in every headline and sends Saul rushing around the country to investigate their putative links to his latest theories. On one of these trips, Saul witnesses a tree burst into flames, and encounters the enigmatic Randolph Glyde, the last survivor of an aristocratic family, whose history is steeped in arcane matters and mysterious goings on.
Saul and Randolph start seeing each other at more and more sites of occult interest, and their separate investigations bring them into conflict with a mysterious government department: the successors to Simon Feximal’s bureaucratic arch-rivals. Through his involvement with Rupert, Saul comes into contact with a ragtag band of ghosthunters and others involved, not always willingly, in the investigation of tears in the fabric of reality – caused, in part, by other members of Randolph’s family attempting to bring the War to an earlier end.
Initially sceptical, Saul finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into the hidden realms that surround Randolph and his colleagues, and is eventually forced to face up to the revelation that he, not Randolph, is the better equipped to fulfil a legacy left vacant by the War’s almost total annihilation of the Glyde family.
I utterly loved the set-up of this book and the intricate backstories given to all the characters. Even those we don’t get to meet here are lovingly described in ways that make me hopelessly keen to meet them in future books. All in all, an excellent start to a series I hope will continue for many episodes.
Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde. Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain. Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.
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