House of Cards is the fourth book in the Porthkennack series that comprises both contemporary and historical novels set around the town of Porthkennack in Cornwall. All the novels are written by different authors; and while I do like the idea of asking a variety of writers to write stories set around a particular theme or place, I have found that with rare exceptions it doesn’t seem to bring out the best in the individual authors.
House of Cards, Garret Leigh’s contribution to the series, is a case in point, as while I usually find her books very much to my taste, this one is a little lacklustre in comparison.
Calum Hardy is a talented tattoo artist living in London in a flat over his tattoo parlour – neither of which are really his. This is because his lover/partner Rob keeps anything of value in his own name. When we join him, Calum has become so used to being treated badly that when he finally leaves after Rob cheats on him, he has no plans, little money and no hope. The south-bound train he blindly jumps on delivers him to Truro in Cornwall.
Brix Lusmoore has also experienced his fair share of betrayal, and it has brought him back home to Porthkennack, about as far as you can get from London. He is astounded then, when driving his chicken rescue van, he sees a very woebegone friend outside of Truro station, one he hasn’t seen since he fled London.
Brix offers Calum friendship, food and lodgings in Porthkennack and Calum accepts the kind gesture to take refuge from the world. Later, Brix offers the talented Calum a job in his tattoo shop. Being able to use his skills again together with the friends he makes at Brix’s shop starts Calum on his healing process.
Brix also has ghosts and betrayals from his past that need healing, but he keeps them close to his chest. Calum and Brix rekindle their friendship and find their bond is strong as ever – this includes the attraction they didn’t follow through on back in the day.
Brix’s tattoo shop and the personalities and types of people that work there are really well described and written, and this is a narrative that feel real and heartfelt. I don’t think it is too unfair to say that tattoo shops tend to attract vivid people and those embodying alternative life styles, so it’s the perfect way to bring in a trans girl and a bisexual couple. The character writing is really compelling and vital, which is why I was a little disappointed by the story overall.
Garrett Leigh usually writes strong, visceral romance narratives and, as here, the characterisations are good and three dimensional, but House of Cards is rather ‘pastel’ overall. It is very hard when, after reading a novel, you cannot put your finger on what didn’t work; all I can say is that it is rather pale in comparison to Garrett Leigh’s usual work.
Cornwall is a very special place. Rocks and petty crime, pounding sea and lost souls, fishermen vying for space with cafés selling cream teas and tacky souvenir shops, salt, seagulls and old smugglers’ tales, mixing with the smell of rotting seaweed and chips with vinegar. The juxtaposition of the old and new didn’t jolt and stand out enough for me.
Having said that I loved Brix’s penchant for saving battery hens, and Calum’s love for Bongo was adorable. I previously mentioned I couldn’t put my finger on why this story didn’t excite me – I can only finish by saying it was too sweet for me and lacked the visceral edge I usually enjoy in this author’s work. However, it is a pleasant summer read and I’m sure will be enjoyed by many.
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