Tangled Web is a historical romance set in London during 1816. The hero, Brendan Townsend, has always known he was attracted only to other men, despite the dangers of such a relationship. He finds himself in a case of hero worship with Philip Carlisle, an older widower whom he asks for help. The relationship progresses slowly as the two men bond over their love of horses, but I still found it compelling reading.
The third son of a viscount, Brendan finds himself in the waning days of his friendship with Tony, his former Oxford roommate. Tony takes Brendan to a club called The Arbor – a “molly house” where everyone wears masks. Brendan is horrified enough when he sees a naked man putting on a sexual exhibition, but when Tony becomes part of the show, that’s too much for Brendan. Even worse, despite the mask, Brendan recognizes one of the visitors as a relative. Brendan makes up his mind to sever his ties with Tony and returns to his family’s house in town, where he helps escort his sister to balls and wonders what to do with the rest of his life. As the third son of a viscount, he has to find a way to support himself without embarrassing his family
Like all bad pennies, Tony drags himself back into Brendan’s life because he needs Brendan’s help to deal with a blackmailer. Remembering what his older brother said, Brendan seeks the help of Philip Carlisle, his brother’s former commander. But can he trust Philip with the truth about his own nature? By his own behavior, Brendan gives Philip reason to trust him. Like Philip, Brendan loves horses and has little love for gambling and other activities. While visiting his home, Brendan helps Philip when mare is foaling. As a country squire, Philip also has to deal with the murder of local lad caught up in smuggling. Philip wonders about Brendan’s proclivities. But surely someone with such a good eye for horses can’t be so bad?
While the relationship between Brendan and Philip progresses slowly, it grows logically from the characters. Brendan is far too cautious to dive into another relationship, especially after what happened with Tony. Philip has a lot of soul-searching to do before he is able to accept his feelings, but the stage is set long before he admits it to himself. Meanwhile, both have to deal with the blackmailer and any aftermaths, and Philip has to see that a murderer is brought to justice.
Because they are alike in so many ways, the two men make a believable couple. It was great spending time with Regency men who were about more than gambling and getting drunk. I liked delving into a character-driven story where the history affects how they interact. However, sometimes in a character-driven story, the plot has to suffer. One of the major plot threads ended too quickly for my tastes – they way its climax came on the heels of another major thread was almost anticlimactic.
Horse-lovers are sure to adore this book for the background alone – this isn’t one of those stories where the author treats horses like fuzzy bicycles that (as Diana Wynne Jones said in The Tough Guide To Fantasyland) “are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.” However, readers who want a fast-paced story with lots of lovemaking might get frustrated.