Rating: 4.75 stars for the book, 5 stars for the series
Cambridge, 1919. It has been a year since Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart emerged from the Great War and reunited. Now back at St. Bride’s College, Orlando prepares to be inducted as Forsterian Professor of Applied Mathematics and needs to have a lecture prepared for the honor, a lecture he is having problems writing. Jonty Stewart is by his side as normal. Jonty recognizes that Orlando needs a distraction, and along it comes in the guise of a murder mystery. This murder mystery also comes with a time constraint. It must be solved in a month’s time or the suspected murderer will inherit a fortune and no one will be able to stop it.
Then with a lecture to write and a murder mystery to solve, on top of it all Orlando is made head of a committee to investigate a crime of plagiarism that involves their collegiate nemesis Dr. Owens from the college next door. Dr. Owens has never forgiven them for solving the Woodville Ward case and has threatened to out the couple if the case against his protege continues. But the biggest fight for the couple is against Orlando’s predilection for depression and his uncertainly about his ability to not only finish the lecture but solve the mystery as well. Jonty knows that this case is just what they need to shore up Orlando’s confidence in himself and to spice up the routine they have gotten into since their return. But the closer they get to the mystery, the larger the mystery gets until even Jonty starts to doubt their ability to solve it. They have survived the war, now they have to survive their return and find the peace they are searching for.
In Lessons for Survivors, Charlie Cochrance brings us into the lives of our favorite couple one year after the events of All Lessons Learned. On first appearances, things seem delightfully back to normal. Jonty and Orlando are back home at Forsythia Cottage with their needs being taken care of by Mrs. Ward and her grandaughter. Jonty has resumed teaching Romantic Literature and Orlando is being made Professor of Applied Mathematics at St. Brides. Ariadne “Peters” Sheridan is back at the college too, her new husband taking the place of Lemuel Peters, her brother, as head of the college. But just as the battles of WWI has left its scars across the landscape of Europe, so too has it left its marks upon Orlando and Jonty. Both men bear physical scars from their time on the front but they also brought home internal scarring as well. Cochrane does not dwell on this any more than Jonty and Orlando do but with subtly and discretion so appropriate to this pair we learn that Jonty is prone to flashbacks of the fighting and Orlando has nightmares and wakes up crying in remembrance. Orlando has also lost his confidence, both in himself and his abilities due to his experiences in WWI and the fact that he is prone to depression is never far from Jonty’s thoughts and ours as well.
And it is just that sort of details in Charlie Cochrane books that I find so compelling and right. After nine books and several independent stories, we know these men intimately due to her extraordinary characterizations. Jonty and Orlando are not the type to give in to over sharing of any trauma, or complaining about their time on the front or their experiences in the trenches, instead they would internalize them, speaking of them only when necessary, and then probably only to each other. And these brief glimpses of how they are haunted by WWI are exactly what we would expect from them.
While some things are back to normal at St. Brides, there are several gaping holes in Jonty and Orlando’s lives now as Mr. and Mrs. Stewart have passed away from influenza and it is their absence that is so greatly missed, not only by Jonty and Orlando but the reader as well. They were remarkable personalities and they are often in our couples thoughts. Cochrane ties their deaths together with the awful events of WWI forever in our minds as well as Jonty and Orlando’s, bringing the enormity of loss that occurred down to a personal and definable level. And while we recognize just what we have lost by the Stewarts passing, Cochrane delivers a older, wiser and quite funny Lavinia Broad and her family to take their place in Jonty and Orlando’s lives and our hearts. It follows just as it would in real life and further illustrates the care and art that Charlie Cochrane brings to her writing and this series.
And let’s not forget that wonderful, light hearted and ebullient banter that is a hallmark of Jonty and Orlando’s relationship. It is as quick witted, warmhearted and as lively as ever. How I love listening to them love each other through snort and snark. They are equally at home in a Noel Coward play or a Sherlock Holmes and Watson mystery, although Orlando would hate to hear it. The author gives us a wonderful mystery here too, one of the best of the series. It comes complete with dead triplets, a happy widow, missing jewels, and a tragic family history to undercover. It will take everything Jonty and Orlando have at hand and more to solve this one and its resolution at the end with leave the reader as well as Jonty and Orlando with a cat’s cream face to show for it.
The angst of the last two books is missing here and that’s just as well. Its time for the painful events of the past to subside and happiness and contentment to take their place, though the memories will always be there. If I have a small quibble with this story, it is that it ends a little too abruptly. I would have wished for one last scene in Forsythia Cottage or in their garden, perhaps having tea or maybe some sherry. Ariadne and Dr. Panesar would be expected shortly. Ariadne to discuss her beloved planarian worms and Dr. Panesar his latest thoughts on time travel. And in the meantime, Lavinia has phoned to discuss the exploits of her son, George with his favorite uncles and ask their opinion. That is how I leave them in my heart and mind, happy, together, surrounded by friends and family in the life they built together , pain and traumatic pasts not withstanding, to arrive at their happy every after, including the occasional eye rolling, snort and kicked shin to prove it.
I do hear the rumors of a 10th book might be planned. If so, I will be “over the moon” in joy but if this is to be the last book in the series, well, I am happy here too. Thanks for a most wondrous series, Charlie Cochrane. Like the Flip-Flap, it has been a most excellent ride.
The new cover design by Alex Beecroft underscores the fact that this book was published by Cheyenne Publishing and not Samhain Press as the others were. It is still as much a delight as the others, just lovely.
For those of you for whom this review is your first introduction, please start from the beginning. Take your time getting to know these remarkable men, delve into life and times of England in the 1900′s. It starts out with all the joys of a slow promenade and then picks up the pace with each succeeding book.
It is an extraordinary journey. Dont miss a page of it. Here are the order the stories were written and should be read to fully understand the relationships and events that occur:
Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows, #1)
My True Love Sent To Me
Once We Won Matches (Cambridge Fellows, #7.5)
Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows, #9) – released by Cheyenne Publishing.
For free stories in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries universe and more about the author, visit the author’s website.