Unfit to Print – K.J. Charles
When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.
Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.
Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together…
A double post in celebration of the World Cup.
I’m team Croatia but I couldn’t find a Croatian LGBTQIA+ book, so even though it did not come home, here’s an English book anyway.
Anything K.J. Charles writes, I read. I am reading my way through her existing oeuvre. At the latest count, there are probably only 4 books left that I need to get my hands on. I hope she keep those goodies coming.
As she had stated on her blog, historical romance and happy endings should not be limited to rich white people and true to her word, she has created happy endings for a jobbing writer and a black merchant as seen in Wanted, a Gentleman, an Indian lodgings keeper and a Victorian taxidermist in An Unseen Attraction and has also included a transman and black club manager (a couple) in the A Society of Gentlemen series.
Unfit to Print is another example of Charles’ consistent effort to write diverse and inclusive stories. Vikram Pandey is a successful Indian lawyer who works pro bono for the poor Indian residents of London. He was tasked to look for a missing Indian boy and his search brought him to the ironically named Holywell Street which is the Akihabara of porn in 19th century England. To his extreme shock, he found his childhood friend and former school buddy Gil Lawless, long thought dead for 13 years. Gil is a mulatto bastard of the Lawes family, swindled out of his inheritance and abandoned to the streets by his half brother, Matthew. He now owns a bookstore selling illicit materials.
Vikram is a moralizing, uptight gentleman with an overactive sense of responsibility and Gil is one of the free love, free will, mutual enjoyment sort who let the others do the worrying because it’s damn well none of his business. Theirs is a combination that worked quite well despite of and/or because of the differences. Vik sees through Gil’s well-cultivated apathy and knows he cares. Why else would he come to Vik’s office? Gil brought the joy and the smiles back to Vik’s life like he always had all those years ago in Oxford. And when one is uptight and the other is insouciant, the resulting dialogue is usually the laugh out loud kind.
“You’ve really got a problem with the pictures?”
“Of course I do,” Vikram snapped. “They’re illegal, immoral, and obscene.”
“Right, but what’s bad about them?”
Although the main focus was Vik and Gil and the mystery was light, it wasn’t a slouch on that area either. The two did great detective work, sorting through a massive heap of porn photos looking for clues on the whereabouts of the missing boy, Sunil, who worked as a model in some of the photos. Their search also bought another case
to their attention, that of a young boy who was found in the streets with his skull caved in, and as this boy was also found posing in the pictures, they knew the cases were related.
I commend the amount of research done for this story. I think modern day porn connoisseurs would be astounded at the variety and scope of Victorian era pornography. As always, the way Charles writes about London is like opening a door and getting hit with the smell of Thames and a barrage of Anglo accents. I also liked the way Vik and Gil’s race and background were worked into the story in a very natural way. They were important and were touched upon but not the focus. Rather, there was the well-paced and well-fleshed out development of their characters and relationship, there was the fight to right the wrongs done to poor immigrants, a discussion on the depths people go through to survive, a look at the hypocrisy of the upper class and an exhortation to be happy even if life has given you one too many kicks in the guts.
“What’s important,” he said carefully. “For me, what’s important is that you give each other a good time when you can. Carpe diem, as they used to say at school. Take your pleasures where you find them, while they last.”
“And do anything you like, because it doesn’t really matter?”
“Being alive matters,” Gil said, on a sudden wave of something like anger. “It matters that I’ve got a warm room and a full belly, and I know that because I went a while without those things, which I’ll bet is more than you ever did. It matters that I’ve a pal with me, and there’s something I reckon you’ve been missing. It matters to be happy instead of miserable.”
It’s easy to take the high moral ground but there’s also the adage of walking a mile in another man’s shoes. I think Vik and Gil made a compelling case of how we can make these things work, of keeping an open mind, of giving enough damns and taking action.
This is an opposite attracts + childhood friends to lovers story + second chance romance with great sense of time and place, palpable Victorian atmosphere and as always, that distinctly sharp humor I have come to associate with Charles’ writing. This might not be her best work, hence the quibbles, but if you ask me what’s wrong with it, I really couldn’t say. Still, this is a great addition to her collective body of work.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits
Wanted, an Author – K.J. Charles
Wanted, an Author is a 5000-word story set in 1807. It returns to the characters of Wanted, a Gentleman, and also introduces a character from my forthcoming novel, Band Sinister.
A Newsletter freebie.
This works best if you’ve read Wanted, a Gentleman.
In Unfit to Print, Gil found a copy of Jonathan: or, The Trials of Virtue, said to be the holy grail of illicit books. Here is where you find the author who wrote it.
Theo getting giddy at being called “a real writer” is adorbs! I’m glad his career is going well.
Martin snoring like a foghorn and annoying the hell out of Theo is just too funny.
Setting the story at the time when Parliament was voting for the abolition of slavery was a nice historical touch and a great excuse to party. And boy, did they party!
John Raven and Lord Corvin! I can’t wait to see what mischief they are up to.
What’s up with all these birdy surnames?
3.5 Stars – that place between like and love
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