Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5
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.
Murder at Oakschott Hall by Jim Austen is my first novel by this author and it’s in a genre, two in fact, that are hard to get right. The first is the historical novel. This is set in 1927 in England and has its own lingo/colloquialisms and historical framework wherein the story and characters have to adhere to. For Austen, that meant having his characters with WWI as part of their back history, including being gassed, and having PTSD although it wasn’t called that at the time. Getting all those elements that make an era come alive without making it feel like a history info dump takes hard work and i believe that Austen did a great job here, albeit with an occasional slip up or two. This author is inordinately fond of the word queer and uses it so frequently that it becomes not only noticeable but an annoyance. When you count it’s use 3 times in 3 short sentences in a row, well, you can see my drift. Other words could have been substituted but he was either making a point about its use in the 1900’s which yes, we know it meant something different, or its just his favorite word. Either way, it took away from the scenes becauses it was a distraction.
The other thing that is hard to write? A good old mystery! And here, Austen does well too. The author keeps us guessing with multiple suspects right up until the end, with just the right amount of twists and turns to keep the main character poised for either a major breakthrough or major trouble. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this element of the story.
No, I think where the story floundered a bit was in the romance itself. And perhaps the main character of Colin Revell. He just never seems to have much substance to him. A flighty sort might be one description. I didn’t particularly like him. And the romance? A total case of instant love or lust. It was a matter of Max Lambourne having a bad case of PTSD which turns into sex, when they barely knew each other in 1927. Talk about taking risks. Which of course turned into “I love you” almost immediately. I mean how fast could my eyes roll? Yes that fast. What follows between them is just as superficially epic while asking the reader to believe this is a real relationship.
No for me, while the historical elements and mystery worked, the two main characters actually didn’t, which was sort of a first.
I think that while I wouldn’t read this story again, I would seek out more from this author. As I said there’s much to recommend here,just not the romance. If you like historical mystery, pick it up for that. And the language and setting. I never could resist a mystery.
Cover Design: Reese Dante
Kindle Edition, 204 pages
Published February 19th 2019 by Flying Heron Press