Gerry B's Book Reviews

Wages of Sin, by Alex Beecroft

If you like a gothic murder mystery and things that go bump in the night, you’re going to love this one!



Publisher’s blurb: Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.


Review by Gerry Burnie

In the past I have read and reviewed Captain’s Surrender and False Colours, and admired both as outstanding historical fiction set in nautical terms—18th-century British Royal Navy, and such. However, Wages of Sin [MLR Press, 2010] is quite a departure from both.

Set in a gothic mansion in the English countryside, young Charles Lantham, son of the Fourth Earl of Clitheroe,[1] returns to find his father suddenly, and mysteriously dead. This is the pivotal event that underlies the entire story; however, the author has masterfully set the dark mood from the get-go; i.e.

Moonlight sucked the colour from damp grass and silvered rising wisps of dew. The deer-park lay dim and still to Charles’ left, receding to a black horizon. To his right, the Latham family chapel loomed dark again the lead-coloured sky.

Sultan’s hooves whispered across the verge as Charles rode past the private graveyard’s wrought iron gate and averted his eyes from the white glimmer of Sir Henry’s mausoleum. It was one thing to laugh together over newspaper reports of vampires in Prussia while reclining in the comfortable lewdness of an actor’s garret—lamp-s blazing, the magic revealed as greasepaint, squalor and hard work—quite another to think of it there, beneath a slice of pewter moon, in a silence so huge it annihilated him.

A fox cried. Sultan snorted, ears flicking. His own heart racing, Charles gentle3d the horse over the gravel drive that swept to the white Grecian pillars of the mansion. They turned towards the stable-yard—coach houses, stalls and grooms quarters arranged about and enclosed square, entered by a short tcobblecxd tunnel beneath the arch, Sultan sidestepping as Charles dismounted. He wrenched his wrist, landed a slap and slither loud enough to conceal the footsteps of a thousand walking corpses and stood propped against the horse’s strong shoulder, gathering himself. Sultan’s warm, straw-scented breath spiraled up comfortingly into the pr-dawn sky.

As you can see from these three opening paragraphs, they get the adrenalin flowing for the rest of this classic gothic paranormal, murder mystery.

Likewise, the author has populated this setting with an interesting cast of characters: The lecherous George Latham, heir to the earldom; his mysterious guest, Jasper, a papist priest and ward of the old earl’s declared enemy; Lady Elizabeth the pregnant sister, and the dying Emma, George Latham’s consumptive wife. In an upstairs-downstairs twist, there are also the servants—the plump, matronly cook and her pretty, cheeky daughter. Any one of whom could be a murderer.

However, murder is not the only thing that occupies Charles Latham’s thoughts as he slowly gets to know the enigmatic priest. For one thing Jasper is a very handsome—and surprisingly worldly—priest, who holds the answers to several questions that Charles is faced with—including his physical attraction to him.

If asked what the strong points of this short novel are, I would say “from cover to cover.” The story is tight, captivating and engrossing, and the writing is outstanding. So, if you like a plot that includes murder, sins of the fathers, a house possessed, a vengeful ghost, exorcism, a unique setting and last but not least such colourful and interesting characters,  Alex Beecroft delivers all of these in spades.

Highly recommended as a good, summer’s-night read.


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 [1] I wonder if he knew the Fifth Earl of Ardmore, a character in my forthcoming novel?

June 6, 2010 - Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction

1 Comment »

  1. Oh, thank you so much for the review, Gerry! I’ve just found it, and I’m over the moon that you enjoyed it so much. I have to admit that I’m very fond of Charles and Jasper, and am turning over ideas for a sequel, so this was a great boost in that direction 🙂

    Comment by Alex Beecroft | June 8, 2010 | Reply

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