This is the third book I have read by K.J. Charles, and the second M/M work of historical fiction. I was especially excited to pick up AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION because not only does it feature a neurodivergent person of color as one of the heroes, it's also an exciting murder mystery set in Victorian England.
Clem is a shy, awkward man who keeps to himself. He runs a boarding house for his half-brother and has always been satisfied with that. He also has a crush on one of his tenants: an intense, quiet man named Rowley who works in a taxidermist shop. There's an attraction between the two of them that seems especially promising, given their chemistry and their sexual compatibility, but then one of Clem's other tenants shows up dead one day, and the romance is put on hold.
K.J. Charles is a very good writer, and whether she's writing M/M or het, I can always count on fast-paced spare prose that manages to fit whatever atmosphere she's writing about. When she wrote about a hostess in Japan who got mixed up with the mafia, she was convincing. When she wrote about a Victorian boarding house owner of mixed ancestry, she was convincing. That is a talent to be lauded, and I am lauding!
I really enjoyed Rowley as a character. His troubled past and strong, intense personality were very attractive. I also liked that he was sexually submissive. There's a common stereotype in fiction that people with dominant personalities want to be dominant in bed, which is not always the case, and I think this is the first time I have seen that shown in fiction. Clem, I liked less at first. I felt like he was too quick to accuse Rowley of working against him. Given his history of being condescended to or misunderstood, I could understand that, but it was annoying to see him constantly getting angry at Rowley whenever he tried to help him, or projecting his own insecurities onto someone else.
The murder was well done. I had an idea of who was behind it and was sort of right, sort of wrong. Charles paints an exceptionally vivid portrait of how unpleasant Victorian England could be. I also liked the inclusion of taxidermy, which was a popular hobby in Victorian times. There was a cutting dig at Walter Potter's cheesy tableaux, too, which made me laugh, because a few years ago my lovely Goodreads friend karen sent me a copy of WALTER POTTER'S CURIOUS WORLD OF TAXIDERMY and it remains one of my favorite coffee table books to this day.
If you enjoy M/M, this will be a great addition to your collection. It's darker than some of K.J. Charles's other series that I've read, but that really works here and sets the tone for the story. I really can't wait to see where she goes with the other books in this series.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars