In The Gentleman’s Book of Vices, Jess Everlee’s soul-stirring debut, a fan obsessed with an illicit book finds true love with his favorite author.
Handsome Charlie Price is a respectable accountant by day and a “finely dressed and finely drunk” rake by night. When his exploits land him under a mountain of crushing debt, he makes a deal with his parents: If they pay what he owes, he’ll do whatever they ask.
Since that compromise, almost nothing in Charlie’s life has been of his choosing, not his comfortable London town house, not the servants who spy on him, not his bank job and not even his sweet fiancée, Alma. Until his wedding, Charlie’s committed to taking pleasure in two things: cultivating his collection of erotica and spending his free time with his gaggle of devoted friends at his hedonistic gentleman’s club, The Curious Fox.
The circumspect and cautious Miles Montague also leads two lives, albeit much more quietly than Charlie. Heartbroken and shaken by an experience that Everlee keeps mysterious at first, Miles runs a respectable bookshop but writes England’s most infamous erotica in his off hours under the nom de plume of Reginald Cox.
Cox happens to be Charlie’s favorite author, so when Charlie learns Cox is an unassuming bookseller, he visits the shop to ask him to autograph his most infamous novel (and Charlie’s most treasured possession): Immorality Plays. In 1883 London, being exposed as the author of an explicit text would mean legal and life-threatening danger, so of course, Miles assumes anyone asking for him by his pen name must be a blackmailer. It’s the queer Victorian version of a meet-disaster turned meet-cute. Miles and Charlie’s attraction is electric. Even though both know their relationship has a firm expiration date, love blooms in the blissful interregnum between their meeting and Charlie’s impending wedding.
Fans of KJ Charles, Cat Sebastian and Alexis Hall will find much to enjoy here. There are shades of Charles’ Unfit to Print (pornographer/bookseller lead) and A Seditious Affair (the well-wrought BDSM and the tightknit circle of friends centered on a private gentleman’s club) as well as Hall’s Something Fabulous (the slapstick humor, mistaken identities and genderplay). While the characters are a bit slow to develop and the plot isn’t as distinctive or refined as the best works in the subgenre, Charlie and Miles’ chemistry is sweet, and Everlee’s writing reaches its peak in their love scenes, which soar with emotional intensity. With its potent blend of queer eroticism, found family and unabashed swoon, this romance is a resonant winner.