This is one of those rare audio books that will gently push everything else out of your head, a thoroughly engrossing tale told in a voice that will soothe, seduce and excite.
The characters in "Widdershins" are very compelling, and the narrator gives each just enough nuance without intruding on my freedom to imagine. The story starts tugging at my curiosity right off the bat. Within a few pages, I am drawn to Percival Endicott Whyborne -- he has an endearing clumsiness and is so shy I really want to follow him to see why.
The mystery unfolds at a tantalizing pace. Hints are dropped every few pages: a mysterious cipher needs translating, tied to a murder of a wealthy young man “in a seedy part of town.” As it escalates, the richly woven tale incorporates elements of the occult, an ancient Egyptian curse, a secret cult, hideous carnivorous monsters and more. And it is all experienced through the very accessible perspective of our very likable hero.
In addition to the scholarly Whyborne, the book is populated by several enticing players: the dashing detective Griffin Flaherty, the feisty and loyal Dr. Christine Putnam, and a colorful cast of thugs, hookers, pompous bosses and a creepy old-world ghoul. These characters are drawn so well that I can really see them as I listen.
The narration spirals in on you. The first few pages feel aloof and have some technical problems that are unfortunate, but these glitches soon clear up and the timbre of this narrator’s voice comes through clearly. He seems just right for Whyborne: youthful, intelligent, and hesitant, at first. But as the story progresses, as the character grows in confidence, the narrator seems to come closer to the reader’s ear. It’s a pleasant sensation, soothing and familiar.
There is also another sort of suspense, even more adroitly developed. When Whyborne becomes all aflutter over Griffin, the story takes on steam, building up an erotic attraction between two men that, in the Victorian setting, would have been extremely taboo. But this is not a “gay romance” so much as a good story that just happens to include gay characters. The story is erotic, but not tawdry. This is a firstly a suspenseful mystery, then a romance and a love story. Sex comes in due course, but it is not the center of the story. I like that, and the narrator is very good at imbuing these characters with just the right amount of personality to support the carefully crafted sensuality at which Jordan L. Hawk excels.
For me, there are multiple memorable moments in the tantalizing escalation of the romantic attachment between the two lead characters (who just happen to be men). I think this would work equally well for a man and a woman, but there are also unique aspects to a gay romance that the author captures with great sensitivity. The narrator is right there, making these increasingly-erotic encounters both believable and, admittedly, a bit arousing.
I suppose my favorite moment is when Griffin and Whyborne escape hideous monsters by setting off an explosion, and are blown out of the old house and land in the snow. The masculine, muscular Griffin lands on top of the slight, delicate Whyborne, pinning him down. There is a fantastically erotic moment, when Griffin gently asks Whyborne "What am I to do with you?" And Whyborne -- stepping across a hitherto taboo threshold -- says "Whatever you want."
That, and the ending, resonate for me as perfect renditions of a love story between two men, perfectly matched.
"Widdershins" is breaking new ground, I think -- moving the genre of "gay fiction" several leagues forward. It's hard to find quality fiction with prominent gay characters. So often, books featuring gay characters make that gayness the center of attention, and the story is all about simplistic sex and "hot" this and "hot" that, shimmering torsos and shallow dialogue. We are beyond that. Widdershins is a gripping story by a talented writer who totally "gets" the nuances of gay romance, read by a narrator who clearly knows whereof he speaks.
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