Page & Sommers: Hither Page – Cat Sebastian
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.
James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.
The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.
As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.
When it comes to MM historicals, Cat Sebastian is one of my go-to authors. I am used to her writing Regency romances so it was a delightful surprise that she decided to shake things up and write about another time period.
Hither, Page is set during post-WWII Britain. It is an era that demands discretion. The book was able to fit the romance to the setting while delivering a well-thought out mystery.
Both MCs served during the war, Leo in what ever role he was required to do, James as the army doctor.
Leo Page, nameless and rootless, goes wherever work takes him. He was assigned to what was purported by his boss as an easy job. He is to take care of a high-ranking military man residing in the countryside who is suspected of passing on information about the British steel industry to enemies and a dead charwoman who had a reputation as a snoop. There, he meets James Sommers, the country doctor who recognized him as one of his patients during the war.
Leo is the first to admit, he lies. It comes natural to him as a spy. Having James recognize him strips him of his disguise and it sets the tone of their interactions. They were able to work together and flirt with each other openly when there’s only two of them. They were under no illusions what so ever. I really liked that the author made it this way because that they were able to establish a baseline of honesty in their relationship. To the rest of the world however, Leo was some clerk on vacation.
James had to cope with his PTSD. Leo, long used to various identities, struggles with the truth. I love the subtle way they took care of each other especially with the mental toll of the war. It was a tender and beautifully nuanced relationship
The story takes place in a span of a week or so. It was written in such a way that a lot of things happened within that short time span that it felt longer but also fast-paced. It made the romance feel slow burn so it evolved quite nicely. It also made it believable that a hardened spy would make a decision to stay with a gentle country doctor.
The author always makes the rest of her cast stand out. There’s a couple of interesting old ladies, Edith and Cora, who had a pretty colorful past and who had surprises of their own. There’s a very enterprising and resourceful teenager, Wendy, who is their ward. She’s always out and about. We have Norris, a too handsome secretary trying to look plain, and the vicar’s wife, Mary, who can’t catch a break. Even the dead Mildred Hoggett was a palpable presence. The fact I remember their names is a testament to how memorable the characters are. Usually, secondary characters are ‘just there’ for me.
The mystery was a clever whodunnit involving a dinner party. It kept me guessing. The twist at the end was really good. I really liked the way things slowly fell into place especially coming from Leo’s POV.
Although I said his decision to stay with James was believable, I felt his decision regarding his job was too hasty. Given the kind of things he did, it’s something you can’t just walk away from. I felt there might be repercussions that were glossed over for the sake of a happy ending.
However, I enjoyed the sharpness of the prose and the way the words flow. There was a great sense of time and place. It had atmosphere you can FEEL. And as always there’s an extra touch of kawaii by having some kind of adorable animal antics here and there.
Overall, Hither, Page is a good opener to a lovely historical series. It takes you to charming English villages full of busybodies, endless cups of tea, too many biscuits and ugly mufflers held on to with affection. It’s a book where secrets were traded, killed for, and hidden in plain sight until someone really looked. It’s also about finding self-worth and deserving a bit of kindness no matter who you are.
This is Cat Sebastian‘s take on Agatha Christie and she did it with deft touch and a coziness that speaks of hearth and home. Highly recommended!
Posts about Cat Sebastian’s works here.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
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The Christmas Angel: Christmas Homecoming by L.A. Witt
August 1939. Roger Miller and Jack O’Brien have been close since childhood. By the time they realize there’s more between them than friendship, Jack is leaving their sleepy Iowa town for college. But they console themselves knowing he’ll be home for Christmas. Right?
It is Christmas before they see each other again, but that Christmas comes six years and a world war later. Aged, beaten, and shaken by combat, they’re not the boys they were back then, but their feelings for each other are stronger than ever.
Neither know the words to say everything they’ve carried since that peacetime summer kiss, though. Even as they stand in the same room, there’s a thousand miles between them.
But maybe that’s some distance the little angel in Roger’s rucksack can cross.
The Christmas Angel series books are standalones and can be read in any order.
I love historical MM stories set during the wartime periods. They are especially poignant and bittersweet usually ending with me blinking back tears.
Christmas Homecoming is part of The Christmas Angel series, where a carved wooden angel worked its magic to bring people together throughout the years. This novella is the only one in the series I’ve read so far.
The story starts in 1939 when Germany was about to invade Poland. Roger and Jack were two childhood friends. Jack was about to leave town for the city. Roger was doesn’t know what to do with his life yet but he is sure that he doesn’t want to be a farmer and marry a girl.
On the day before Jack was about to leave, the two friends decided to take a swim together for the last time. That was when they realized the feelings between the two of them evolved into something else. They shared a kiss. They didn’t see each other again for 6 years.
This is a beautiful love story between two men at a time when such love was not yet accepted. It is full of yearnings and sweet stolen moments made more precious because it’s taboo. I wanted to hug them and give them their safe space.
The war tore the two men apart. L.A. Witt deftly inserted details that portrayed the life of soldiers at war-time and after. It made what would otherwise be a sweet but simplistic fairytale more complex and nuanced. The survivors had to deal with PTSD. Roger and Jack were not spared. They each carry with them complicated memories of bombs and the men who kept them company in the lonely nights. My heart went out to Oskar, the spy and Floyd, the pilot. The story did a good job drawing me to these two secondary characters who existed only in memories. I wanted their stories too.
Admittedly, the middle part did drag a bit but as the story slowly eased its way to the resolution I found myself enjoying it even more. I liked how the author gave Roger a way out of the prescribed path his parents laid out for him. I liked how they found a way to be together. I even found myself interested in the two old codgers who inspired the boys that it’s possible.
Christmas Homecoming is a touching holiday story I recommend. For a book its length, it’s filled with many interesting characters and intense emotions. It captured the small-town atmosphere, the post-war melancholy and the fervent longings of forbidden lovers. It didn’t make me cry but it did warm my heart.
L.A. Witt books here
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits