The Lawrence Browne Affair, by Cat Sebastian

3 Aug

A number of people I trust have recommended Ms Sebastian’s work; most recently, Keira Soleore (review here) and Bona Caballero (review, in Spanish, here), have talked about this novel.

To virtually no one’s surprise, I already had it, in ye olde digital TBR of gargantuan proportions, so I finally read it.

Caveats: adult language, a couple of graphic sex scenes, and implicit emotional and physical abuse of children.

The Lawrence Browne Affair, by Cat Sebastian

This is the second title in a trilogy, which is something I managed not to internalize somehow. As most of my lovely readers probably know, I tend to be pretty anal retentive about reading series in order, because I like seeing the evolution of different characters through the various books. This novel, however, can stand perfectly well as a stand alone.

Well, except that once you are done, you want to get your hands on the first novel in a hurry.¹

Here, have a back cover blurb:

An earl hiding from his future . . . 

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least, that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.

A swindler haunted by his past . . . 

Georgie Turner has made his life pretending to be anyone but himself. A swindler and con man, he can slip into an identity faster than he can change clothes. But when his long-dead conscience resurrects and a dangerous associate is out for blood, Georgie escapes to the wilds of Cornwall. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl.

Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives? 

Challenging each other at every turn, the two men soon give into the desire that threatens to overwhelm them. But with one man convinced he is at the very brink of madness and the other hiding his real identity, only true love can make this an affair to remember.

For once, the blurb does a pretty good job setting up the plot, so I won’t re-thread on that. Instead, let me talk about the writing.

Ms Sebastian does a superb job of writing very nuanced and complex characters, without spoon feeding the reader all the gory details of what makes them who they are. We are shown just enough to know that both Georgie and Lawrence are survivors of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of their fathers. We are not hit over the head with every fact and incident in their lives; in fact, the very economical manner in which this is presented makes its impact all the more striking.

Both men have sought to escape the fate dictated by the circumstances of their birth. Georgie, a pickpocket and thief from an early age, grew up to become a confidence man among the wealthy lower gentry. Lawrence, the second son an earl, punished always for his differences, retreated into himself, pouring his soul and brilliant mind into his experiments and inventions. Once they are thrown together through sheer serendipity, the other’s personality and insight force them to question what they have always believed about themselves, and the world.

This story is not about love at first sight, but about that instant recognition of another; not so much a kindred spirit as a matching piece in the puzzle of one’s life. And it fits both characters that their first reaction is to retreat from each other.

Lawrence’s acute anxiety, and his homosexuality (along with society’s views of the same at the time–the story is set in late 1816), coupled with his late, unlamented father’s and brother’s depravities, seem, to him, obvious proof that insanity runs in the family. He has never had any reason to question that, sooner or later, he’ll go stark raving mad. Georgie’s calm unflappability in the face of his excentricities forces Lawrence to examine this belief.

And as he opens himself to the possibility that he is different, yet sane, Lawrence discovers that he has never been as alone nor as isolated as he believed.

Georgie has spend most of his life distancing himself from everyone around him. Being a swindler means presenting himself as someone who cares about others, while preserving an internal distance from the people one is planning on robbing blind. Georgie is bewildered by his own inability to even pretend, to himself, not to care about Lawrence.

The apparent caretaker of the two, Georgie is heartbreakingly vulnerable in his own way, his outwardly confident shield a fragile shell over his heart.

In fits and starts, they open up to each other; first the spark of attraction, then caring, then love. The slow evolution of the relationship fits the characters, and the mood of the story, perfectly. A lovely, sweet tenderness grows slowly between the two, moving them to be better, to each other, and to themselves.

I was surprised to discover that this is only the author’s second published novel, as Ms Sebastian’s writing voice is very assured; without making an obvious show of it, it pulls the reader into the time and place the characters inhabit, bringing to life a whole cast of characters around them. Simon, Lawrence’s legal heir, though not his son. Mrs Ferris, the cook-cum-housekeeper at Penkellis. Sarah, Georgie’s older sister. Lady Standish, Lord Courtenay, and more.²

The Lawrence Browne Affair is a lovely story, with memorable protagonists. 8.50 out of 10.

~ * ~

¹ Never fear, I now own the first title, The Soldier’s Scoundrel ::happy dancing::

² I hope that, at some point, Ms Sebastian will write both Sarah Turner’s and Lady Standish’s stories.

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4 Responses to “The Lawrence Browne Affair, by Cat Sebastian”

  1. willaful 03/08/2017 at 4:25 PM #

    So glad you enjoyed this one!

    • azteclady 03/08/2017 at 5:39 PM #

      I did, very much; I confess that it took me about…oh, a full chapter, but by the time Georgie shows up at Penkellis, I was gone over the characters.

  2. Bona 04/08/2017 at 5:13 AM #

    I liked your review. And I’m so happy that you enjoyed this book, as I did… BTW Lady Standish’s story is told (more or less) in the third book, The Ruin of a Rake, which is a little bit more conventional, but that I have also enjoyed. A 3-stars review, that I’ll publish… let me see, next Wednesday I think.

    • azteclady 04/08/2017 at 6:12 AM #

      Oh yay! Thank you for letting me know, Bona!

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