Title: Murder At Oakschott Hall
Publication date: February 19, 2019
Length: 204 pages
Reviewed by Sammy
They have eyes for each other. But someone is eyeing them for murder. An erotic gay romance mystery.
In the Junior students’ dormitory at Oakschott Hall, a heavy gaslight falls from the ceiling, crushing the head of a student sleeping beneath it. Was it simply a tragic accident? To avoid publicity, the Headmaster asks Colin Revell, a young Oxford University graduate and former Oakschott student, to quietly investigate.
While interviewing the faculty and staff, Colin meets Max Lambourne, a handsome don who was wounded and gassed in WWI. When Colin tries to help Max overcome his trauma and depression, the two men fall in love and begin an erotic affair.
But when another student dies—diving at night into an empty swimming pool—murder is suspected. Students and faculty all come under suspicion, and rumors proliferate when Scotland Yard intervenes. Meanwhile, during all this confusion and wild theories, the murderer sees Colin and Max as threats. Unbeknownst to the two lovers, their lives are now in danger.
Accidents can happen but when they happen to not one but two brothers at the public boys school, Oakschott Hall, the head master turns to a former student for help. Colin Revell has a bit of a reputation for amateur sleuthing so when the headmaster of the school he attended as a boy calls on him he immediately goes to assist the investigation. What looked like an accident turns more sinister when a second fatality occurs and the victim is none other than the brother of the first boy who mysteriously died. Now a teacher at the school stands to inherit as the surviving cousin to the dead siblings and a shroud of suspicion surrounds the man. Colin finds help from yet another teacher, Max Lambourne. Max has returned from the war a changed man. He suffers from anxiety and finds relief by Colin’s presence in his bed. But as the two men join forces to catch a murderer, their time together is cut short when foul play visits the school once again and claims a third victim.
Murder at Oakschott Hall by Jim Austen is a solid gothic mystery that leaves one guessing right up to the end. With more than one twist and turn in a fast moving storyline, the suspect is hard to pin down even as the body count grows. If the secondary romance plot between Colin and Max had been as effective as the mystery I think this novel would have been outstanding. Unfortunately there were a few things that seemed a bit off when it came to Colin’s character—primarily the idea that he was surrounded by underage boys and the occasional thoughts he had about seducing them. It was never overt but there was this rather strange tone to the novel that made me a bit squeamish. From the opening chapters where apparently we were to believe that Colin has a spontaneous orgasm just walking into a room where he himself had been seduced by a professor when he was a former student to the recurring innuendo that Max could have been having an affair with older brother who turned up dead, the book was just a bit uncomfortable to read, at times.
When you link that to the sudden love overtures between the wife of one of the teachers and Colin later in the book I think it’s safe to say this story just had too much going on that didn’t always ring quite true. For instance, I was fairly sure, and the story definitely supported the idea, that Colin was gay and would never marry and yet that all changed suddenly when he felt the need to protect the wife of the key suspect in the murders. I was so confused by this plot development. I perhaps could have understood if she had been presented as some sort of siren or femme fatale who lured men sexually but no such idea was ever introduced. Instead she was made out to be an unhappy wife who seemed okay with the idea that was her lot in life. Between that strange subplot and the rather cavalier way the inspections or lack thereof were done at the crime scenes I really found myself both frustrated and confused by the flimsy way in which the mystery element turned out being addressed.
Murder at Oakschott Hall suffered from too many ideas being tossed together and forced to fit into what could have been a fine mystery if it had been kept neat and simple. That and the clearly inappropriate sexual overtones that filtered throughout the story made this book feel both contrived and, at times, uncomfortable to read. I think author Jim Austen has some good writing skills but may need to pay closer attention to editing his novels so his characters are a bit more consistent. This was a good mystery that suffered from a romantic vein that missed the mark.
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