Beautifully Unexpected is typical Lily Morton – and I mean that in a good way. It’s well-written, warm, funny and sexy, boasting two intensely likeable leads with terrific chemistry, plenty of her trademark snark – and a real punch in the feels towards the end.
Magnus Carlsen QC is one of the most successful barristers in the country – and is well aware of that fact; modesty isn’t one of his defining qualities. He’s the sort of man who commands attention whether he’s in a courtroom or a dining room; he’s attractive, intelligent and supremely confident, likes his life ‘just so’, his men young and the sex casual.
The book opens as Magnus is going through his morning routine – pleased to discover that last night’s bed partner has had the good manners to take himself off – and answers the door only to discover said bedmate clearly hadn’t got the message that the night before was a one off. Worse, he’s standing naked on the doorstep insisting they’re in a relationship, wearing only a blue bow tied around his tackle. As Magnus irritatedly attempts to put him straight, he notices a man getting out of the lift pulling a suitcase and watches as he stops outside the apartment opposite and seems to be looking for his keys. Magnus doesn’t recognise the man, but he certainly seems to be quietly amused by the drama unfolding on Magnus’ doorstep. The beribboned twink flounces off just as the other man manages to unlock his door and with a Parthian shot worthy of Magnus himself, goes inside.
Following a morning in court – and having chalked up another win – Magnus is at lunch with a colleague when he sees his new neighbour at another table, and goes over to introduce himself properly. He’s surprised when the man tells him he’s having dinner with Judge Bannister– the very Judge whose courtroom Magnus had been in that morning – and Magnus commiserates with him over having lunch with such a frightful bore. And then falls – metaphorically – flat on his face when the man tells him the judge is his stepfather. Oops.
Renowned artist Laurie Gentry is around the same age as Magnus (he’s forty-eight to Magnus’ fifty-two), but that’s about the only thing they seem to have in common. Laurie is creative, messy, witty, irreverent, something of a free spirit and just a little bit mysterious – and he’s absolutely not Magnus’ type.
Well, it’s a romance novel, so we know where it’s going, but the getting there is a lot of fun! I enjoyed reading these two characters who believe themselves to be completely set in their ways circling each other, working out that maybe a no-strings fling is in order, and then falling hard for each other, no matter that that’s not what they intended at all. I loved how Laurie is completely up to Mags’ (he insists on calling him Mags) weight and won’t let him get away with any crap; he knows how to burst his bubble when he’s being a bit too arrogant and he’s overflowing with the sort of warmth and laughter Mags’ somewhat sterile life and environment has long been missing. Watching Mags open up and let him in was just lovely; but what really shines through is the way these two come to truly know, understand and care for one another, and how they take care of one another, working out what the other needs and providing it. Their romance unfolds at a perfect pace; it’s tender and funny and sexy, and the depth of their affection for each other is palpable. These two really do bring out the best in each other as they come to realise how much better life can be when you have someone to share it with.
The one incongruous note in the book is the dog. Laurie decides Mags should get a dog (“You don’t have to have a good personality for a dog to love you. Just a pulse.”) and for some strange reason Mags, a man who values order and tidiness, lives in a beautiful apartment with, no doubt, expensive furniture and fittings, chooses a dog who will almost certainly chew all of it to bits. For one thing, I was surprised that an exclusive apartment block would actually allow animals, and for another, his decision was so completely out of character that it threw me out of the story. If it was supposed to show me that Mags was unbending due to Laurie’s influence – it didn’t. It just felt off.
And my other niggle is the overuse of the phrase “Ack!” by Magnus. Maybe a Danish thing (Magnus is Danish but has lived most of his life in the UK), but it appears a lot and I found it rather irritating.
The fact that Magnus and Laurie are in mid-life kind of permeates the book insofar as these are men who’ve been around the block a few times, have plenty of life experience under their belts and know who they are, and that confidence and knowledge is present on the page. That’s not to say things are smooth sailing; there is clearly something worrying Laurie, while Magnus is struggling to reconcile his previously uncomplicated existence with his emerging feelings – and I really appreciated that by the time we reach the end, they’re essentially the same men they always were – they’re just better together than they were apart.
The deadpan humour is spot on, the steam factor is just right and the moments of poignancy are superbly judged – I don’t think I’ve ever teared up reading a Lily Morton book before, but this one had me sniffling. Despite my criticisms, I enjoyed Beautifully Unexpected very much and definitely recommend it to fans of the author’s or anyone looking for a heartfelt, superbly developed romance between a mature couple.