Narrated by Joel Leslie
Oz, the first book in Lily Morton’s Coming Home series, is loosely linked to her previous Mixed Messages trilogy but works perfectly well as a standalone. If you’re familiar with the author’s work, you’ll find exactly the sort of thing you’ve come to expect; characters who could snark for England, plenty of steam, a wonderful ‘family’ of secondary characters and a lovely HEA. I have to be honest, though. While I enjoyed Oz, it’s far from my favourite of Ms. Morton’s books, and even though it’s got all the ingredients that made the Mixed Messages books real winners, something about it fell a bit flat. The humour isn’t as funny, the wit isn’t as biting, the conflict is very slight and there’s ultimately not much of a story here.
Oz Gallagher doesn’t exactly have a great track record – any track record, really – with relationships, but even so, finding his boyfriend balls-deep in another bloke in their bed is something he could have done without. Over a drink in the local pub, Oz’s best mate Shaun shows him an ad for a House and Collections Manager at the Earl of Ashworth’s property in Cornwall and encourages Oz to apply – he’s got degrees in Fine Art, History of Art and nothing to lose, after all. Oz is surprised, to say the least, to get an interview, and turns up at the swanky London hotel amid all the besuited posh types who are obviously after the job as well. Feeling completely out of place and knowing he’s got no chance against all these chinless wonders, Oz thinks ‘fuck it’ and gives the worst interview ever:
“So, Oz, I see that you have a first class degree in Fine Art and History of Art… And can you say that you’ve used this in a productive manner?”
I shrug and smile earnestly. “It’s allowed me to work on Bernie’s Antique stall on Camden Market.”
“The position you’re interviewing for is that of the house manager at Ashworth House. Can you tell me what you think that entails?”
I shrug and smile winsomely. “I imagine it’s like being a tour manager, but with less drugs and hookers.”
… and of course, he gets the job.
Silas, the Earl of Ashworth, was left with huge debts when his father died, but wants to see if he can turn things around before he thinks about offloading the place to the National Trust. The house – whose Cornish name is Chi an Mor – is his home, and even though his childhood wasn’t particularly happy (if you’ve read or listened to Risk Taker, you’ll already know what a complete and utter bastard his father was) – the place is in Silas’ blood and he can’t envisage himself anywhere else. His plan is to generate income by opening the house to visitors for part of the year, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get it ready to open on time. His thriving veterinary practice keeps him going financially on a personal level, but he can’t work there and oversee the renovations, and his former house manager – who had been sharing his bed – has recently quit.
Oz arrives to find the situation worse than he’d expected. The car park is still a field, the visitors centre is an empty shell and the workmen… are down the pub. With gusto, gumption and grit worthy of Mary Poppins, Oz deals with the lazy builders, sorts out Silas’ staffing problems, gets everything running like clockwork and even faces off against Silas’ shitty ex for an encore. He’s just that good.
Lily Morton builds a lovely friendship between Oz and Silas to start with, Oz caring for Silas in simple but important ways (like sitting up late to make sure he eats when he’s been out on calls all day), the two of them talking and getting to know each other. Silas is bisexual and freely admits to having had a lot of relationships, but none has lasted very long; he loves Cornwall and doesn’t want to leave, and his previous partners haven’t wanted to be there long term. He’s down-to-earth and lovely and lonely, and I loved watching him demolish every one of Oz’s preconceptions of what a member of the aristocracy would be like. There’s a strong pull of attraction between them from the start, but with both men having had bad experiences of boss/employee relationships, they agree that acting on that attraction would be a very bad idea… until, of course, it becomes impossible not to. ;)
Silas and Oz are good for each other in the best of ways, each finding something in the other they’d never thought to have. The only real conflict in the story comes from the fact that Oz is convinced he’s not good enough; an Irish boy from a Tottenham council estate and an Earl don’t make sense and he can never really fit into Silas’ upper-crust life (impressions only reinforced by Silas’ bitchy mother). But Silas is clever enough to know exactly what Oz is thinking and is prepared to wait for the penny to drop – that penny being that he’s as in love with Silas as Silas is with him and that they’re each other’s person – each other’s home.
Oz is funny and sexy, with great secondary characters and wonderfully descriptive prose, but the story loses momentum after Oz and Silas become a couple. There’s no real drama (and I’m not talking about over-the-top melodrama, just… something to propel the story forward) and no real tension as a result – and that’s fine; low-angst stories can be great, but I just wanted a bit more from this one. And Oz the character… well, he’s witty, gorgeous, warm, capable and caring; he’s a good cook, he’s a brilliant manager, he’s got an answer for everyone and a plan for everything – in short, he’s more than a bit too good to be true, and that got to be wearing after a while.
In Joel Leslie, Lily Morton has found the perfect narrator for her particular brand of sexy snark. He’s an incredibly talented performer and it was obvious to me within the first five minutes of their very first collaboration, Rule Breaker, that I was listening to a narrator who completely ‘got’ his author and her characters. His comic timing is superb, he has a wide repertoire of character ‘voices’ and accents, and isn’t afraid to go big in the more emotional moments – especially the sex scenes, which should probably come (!) with a bucket of ice. All those things are true in Oz; timing, characterisation, differentiation and pacing, it’s all superb, but something about his performance here didn’t wow me as much the others he’s given so far in books by this author. I’m not 100% sure why that was, but I suspect it’s because I wasn’t wild about the accent he adopts for Oz (To clarify, it’s not bad or inaccurate, I just… didn’t care for it). Mr. Leslie’s vocal characterisations are terrific and every character sounds different and is easy to identify; he set himself a huge challenge in sustaining a completely different accent for the vast majority of the story, but towards the end, it starts to slip, especially when it ‘bleeds over’ into some of Silas’ dialogue, which makes him sound odd given he doesn’t have an accent earlier in the book.
BUT. I suspect that for many (most?) listeners that won’t be an issue – it’s just that accents are ‘my thing’ and I tend to be pretty exacting about them. Joel Leslie is one of my favourite narrators, and so my expectations are very high; and I suppose what I’m saying is that here, he’s merely very good as opposed to outstanding!
Oz it isn’t going to make my list of Lily Morton favourites, but it’s a sweet, hot, fun listen and Joel Leslie does a great job. If you’re in the market for minimal angst, hot sex and a dirty-talking earl, you need look no further!
Running Time: 9 hours 6 minutes
Breakdown of Grade: Narration – B+; Story – B-