Desert Isle Keeper
Any Old Diamonds
Murder and mayhem! Betrayal and revenge! Dastardly dukes and scheming criminals! Roll up, roll up! K.J. Charles has another winner on her hands with Any Old Diamonds, a fabulously entertaining and deftly plotted tale of intrigue and suspense in which our hero – son of the aforesaid dastardly duke – sets in motion a plan of vengeance and retribution… and gets rather more than he bargained for. In the best possible way, of course.
Alec Pyne – more accurately, Lord Alexander Greville de Keppel Pyne-ffoulkes, second son of the Duke of Ilvar – has, for the past eight years, supported himself by working as an illustrator for books and newspapers. It’s not the sort of life he could be living as the scion of one of the wealthiest men in England, it’s true, but it’s a far better option than living under his father’s roof. A particularly complicated and ultimately heartbreaking family situation led to Alec and his siblings (two sisters and a brother, the heir to the title) being cut off completely by the duke following a huge family row which had been brewing for years. Not wanting to be a burden on his brother’s meagre income, Alec took lodgings and found work, mostly content to be his own man.
But the recent death of his sister Cara – which went largely unnoticed by the duke – has prompted Alec to exact some sort of retribution, which is what leads him into contact with notorious thieves, the Lilywhite Boys. He wants them to steal the extremely valuable diamond parure the duke is going to present to his wife on the occasion of their anniversary, as payback, of sorts, for his father’s treatment of them all, but most especially Cara, for simply allowing her to die having ignored their requests for the financial assistance that would have enabled them to pay for treatment of her illness.
The Lilywhite Boys – aka Jerry Crozier and Templeton Lane – aren’t at all what Alec had expected. Rather than a pair of grubby ruffians, he’s met by a pair of well-spoken, well-groomed men-about-town who quickly make it clear they’ve done their homework on him and that once he’s in, there’s no backing out. Alec is nervous, but determined, and by the time they part ways that evening, they’ve decided on a plan. This is no quick in-and-out job; they’re going to have to play a long game, and in order for it to work, Alec is going to have to play a part, too. He’ll have to convincingly befriend Jerry so that when he takes him along to Castle Speight for the anniversary celebrations, it’ll seem like a perfectly natural choice, and – and here’s the really hard part – he’s going to have to keep his plans a secret from his brother George and sister Annabel, which means letting them think he’s betraying them by attempting to get back into their father’s good graces. While Alec is fully prepared to pretend to have swallowed his own pride, he hadn’t reckoned on deceiving his siblings, which he knows is likely to tear him apart.
The way K.J. Charles juxtaposes a caper-style plot, a heartrending story of revenge AND a beautifully conceived love story is incredibly skilful and the end result is simply marvellous. She’s a master of the long game herself; the plot is brilliantly constructed with a completely unexpected twist in the second half that shows she’s also a master of misdirection. The relationship between Alec and Jerry is slowly but superbly developed, and I loved the way she gradually peels away their outer layers and brings them both to the realisation that so much of what they believe about themselves is wrong.
The two men are as different as chalk and cheese – and yet they’re a perfect match, able to see each other clearly and discern things about each other that they perhaps do not realise about themselves. Alec views himself as weak and needy – his passivity annoys even himself! – but he’s honest, brave and possesses an inner strength he doesn’t fully appreciate, but which Jerry can see:
“You have such determination, far more than you realise, perhaps. A remarkable quiet sort of strength.”
Jerry is confident, charming and always knows what to do and say; he says he’s not a good man… and perhaps he isn’t in many ways, but it’s easy to see that he comes to care deeply for Alec. I particularly appreciated how perceptive he is, especially that he realises just how much going through with this job is going to cost Alec. Their growing camaraderie and friendship is evident through their discussions, whether about art and the theatre or more intimate subjects such as sexual pleasure and desire, and their mutual attraction burns bright, which leads to a number of sizzling encounters in which Jerry is more than happy to accommodate Alec’s desire to cede control.
Fans of Ms. Charles’ will no doubt be delighted – as I was – at the nods to her Sins of the Cities series as we briefly reacquaint ourselves with Tim and Greta, the Earl and Countess of Moreton, and with Susan (formerly Sukey) Lazarus, lady detective with Braglewicz and Lazarus enquiry agents. Susan is clearly a force to be reckoned with – intelligent, capable and take-no-crap – and as if all that wasn’t enough, mention is made of distant connections to the Vane family (from the Society of Gentlemen books) – which may not be so distant after all.
My one niggle – which is so small it doesn’t really qualify as a complaint – is that I missed having Jerry’s PoV. He’s meant to be a bit of a dark horse, so keeping him at a little distance in that way makes sense, but it also meant that it took me longer to buy into his emotional commitment to Alec than it might otherwise have done. The story ends on a very firm HFN, no question, and Jerry’s feelings and motivations are made very clear by his actions in the last few chapters – it’s just that K.J. Charles writes these amoral, smart-mouthed, devious-bastard heroes so well, that I would have liked to have read Jerry’s take on events as well. So yeah, I’m just being greedy 😉
When I finished reading Any Old Diamonds, I posted an update on Goodreads that said “I dunno about diamonds, but this is gold” – and it really is. Witty, clever, sexy, heart-rending, and completely unputdownable, it’s got my year of reading off to a very good start and I’m sure will do the same for you. Do yourself a favour and nab a copy post haste.