Review: The Quid Pro Quo by A.L. Lester (2021)

The Bradford Trilogy, Book #2

Heat Factor: There’s one vaguely uncomfortable blow job

Character Chemistry: That feeling when you have flutters about someone new but you’re not sure if they reciprocate

Plot: Simon is investigating a murder, and Walter’s close friend is the primary suspect. Also, oh shit, there’s a demon.

Overall: Everything is very stiff upper lip; I liked the serenity in the midst of chaos.

The Quid Pro Quo is a weird book. For the most part, it reads like a very straightforward 1920s romance–murder mystery hybrid. Walter and Simon are very proper and standoffish (with butterflies underneath) as Simon investigates a murder in the village where Walter lives. While Walter cooperates with the investigation, I wouldn’t say he actively assists, so we’re not looking at a partners-in-crime-solving scenario. Rather, Walter and Simon’s relationship is about them slowly circling each other to see if it’s safe to make a move, safe (both physically and emotionally) for each man to reveal himself to the other.

The mystery also includes an element of the supernatural. The woman who died did so shortly after participating in a seance gone wrong—for both otherworldly and interpersonal reasons. The characters approach most of the supernatural elements with the same calm, somewhat detached tone. No one discounts the possibility of the supernatural, but there aren’t any active magic users in the group either. Rather, all the characters calmly accept that it could be an option, are somewhat frightened by the possibility, and then staidly continue about their days.

So what’s the weird thing? 

  • Well, the murderous whatever it is does show up for a chapter that is distinctly different in tone. With everything else before and after so calm, it was somewhat jarring. 
  • The romance is paced such that there’s some angry sexual activity around the midpoint, but I would call everything else about the romance a careful slow burn. It definitely made sense given the characters, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it. We end on a definite Happy For Now, with hope for the future, now that both Simon and Walt have been revealed.
  • The mystery was pretty obvious, and it made me mad how bad a detective Simon was being when he arrested the wrong person.
  • This last point is more about me than the book, but it was fascinating reading Lester’s portrayal of spiritualism so shortly after reading The Spinster’s Swindle by Catherine Stein. Let’s just say that the characters in the Quid Pro Quo would not be impressed by the eponymous swindling spinster, and the disconnect between those two viewpoints was striking.

Even with the weirdness, I really enjoyed this book. It felt very 1920s British countryside slice of life. Simon and Walter are both carrying their experiences of wartime with them, which adds some gravitas but not much angst to the proceedings. The details—characters fear being outed, everyone is smoking horrendously smelly cigarettes—ground the story in a specific time and place. I should note, in addition, that while there is the threat of queer persecution hanging over the characters, it is not heavy-handed; Walter, Sylvia, and Lucy have created a lovely and safe found family, and by the end of the book it is heavily implied that Simon too will come to be included in this space.

It is the second book in a trilogy, but I had no trouble following the plot and characters. Lester gives a good deal of background information on Walter and why he’s living with Dr. Sylvia Marks and Miss Lucy (the protagonists of Book 1 and also the prime murder suspects in this story); I found it helpful, but someone who has read the first installment will have to chime in as to whether or not it’s repetitive. 

At the end of the day, this book didn’t give me all the feels, but it was a good read. I found it very soothing and would absolutely pick up someone else by this author. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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