Title: Life Begins at Forty
Author: Jessie Blackwood
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Life Begins at Forty
Genre: M/M historical (1940’s) romance
Length: Novella (112 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
For fans of Ifan and Jack from Per Ardua, this continuation of their HEA will appeal but I found it a little bland and uninspiring, despite some nicely written scenes.
After months of physiotherapy, Group Captain Jack Ratigan has regained some of the mobility lost in plane crash at the end of World War II. But six years later, he still requires the care of his cousin’s butler, Ifan—who is also Jack’s secret lover. In an era when homosexuality is an imprisonable offence, they have to maintain the utmost discretion or risk prosecution.
Insecurities, outside attacks, and misunderstandings are close to tearing Jack and Ifan apart: Jack’s impending middle age, an act of violence in their house, a letter threatening the close-knit community Jack now calls home—and the detective inspector from another jurisdiction investigating a similar unsolved case. The threat of exposure is growing, and for their love to survive, Jack and Ifan must determine who their true friends are—and if they are strongest together or apart.
This story follows on from the end of Per Ardua which I reviewed here. Jack is approaching his 40th birthday and his cousin Bronwen has plans for a big party. Jack and Ifan are horrified when they received a poison pen letter, which tells them that they will be exposed as ‘sodomites’, especially when Bronwen is injured by a stone which has been deliberately thrown through their door window. The two men know that they have been very careful in public not to show the true nature of their feelings, but when a police inspector from Cardiff arrives to investigate it puts a strain on Jack’s nerves and his relationship with Ifan.
Whilst I didn’t dislike this story, it suffers from a lack of story or plot. The above summary basically tells you what happens. I was a bit baffled really as to why I was reading a bit of a non-story, no matter how nicely written, when there was scope within the first few pages for something a bit less bland and more exciting. When the story begins with the poison pen letter and the stone through the door window, I thought that maybe the story was going to take on a bit of mystery story line with our heroes helping the police by doing a bit of sleuthing on the side, but no, all the solving of the mystery is done elsewhere and off page. Instead the letters are used as a focus for a mini-breakdown by Jack and the cause of a minor bust-up between our heroes. The argument surfaces over nothing – a storm in a teacup really – and things get blown out of proportion, Ifan totally overreacts and the next day things settle down after Jack comes to his senses. That pretty much sums up all the complications in the story, the rest of the time is made up of lots of prettily written filler scenes where Jack writes his memoirs, takes part in a birthday surprise and has a party. Even the sudden, rather unrealistic, insertion of a dramatic scene at the end of the book, or the way that the book dealt a little with the problems of being gay in the 1940’s, didn’t really lift the story out of its blandness.
The above paragraph may lead to believe that I didn’t really like the book. That wasn’t the case at all. It was nice and pleasant to revisit the characters of Jack and Ifan. The author has a fluid way of writing that makes everything flow nicely and I read the novella quickly. Jack is an easy character to like and even his minor breakdown was handled in a sensitive fashion. I liked that Ifan was starting to stand up for himself a bit and although there’s not that much change in their relationship dynamics, Jack begins to understand some of Ifan’s needs that he’d not seen before. the characters and the dialogue fitted well with the time period and the whole book was firmly grounded in the historical setting.
This really is a story for those who loved the previous book and to understand how Jack and Ifan come to love each other you need to read Per Ardua first. For me, it was a pleasant interlude but nothing that left me with a lasting impression of the story which is why I’ve gone for a rating in the middle of three stars.