The Secret Casebook(s) of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles (includes Remnant with Jordan L. Hawk*)

CaldwellGhostButterfliesRemnant

Why I read them:  There are three short stories in this series (so far).  The first I bought for $1.99 from Torquere Press. It’s too expensive because it’s less than 15 pages. But the good news is that the other two self-published shorts are free from Smashwords in all the formats.  Taken together, $1.99 is well worth it.  And I think The Caldwell Ghost has possibly my favourite opening paragraph ever.

The Caldwell Ghost

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  When Robert Caldwell inherits a haunted house, he calls on ghost-hunter Simon Feximal to rid him of the supernatural menace. But the ghost is stronger than either man realizes — strong, angry, and desperate for release. Trapped in a haunted house with a dangerously attractive ghost-hunter and a sexually frustrated spirit, can Robert survive the night intact…and will he want to?

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This clever little short has an absolute cracker of an opening paragraph.  We are plunged into the action immediately.  It’s only about 13 pages but in that time, the setting – both the time period and the creepiness and the characters are drawn with a deft hand. It’s not a romance, but rather the pair meet and, while fixing Robert Caldwell’s ghost problem, have a sexy interlude which promises to be more.  We know in fact that they go on to have a very HEA because of the letter to the editor at the beginning.  It’s all very cleverly done.

 

Butterflies

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Journalist Robert Caldwell is still smarting from his first encounter with ghost-hunter Simon Feximal. Their night in a haunted house was thrilling, but the aftermath leaves Robert hurt, disappointed, and resolved not to see Simon again.

But just a few days later their paths cross once more, this time investigating a pair of mysterious deaths: two corpses shrouded in butterflies.

Now Robert wants the truth – on the deaths, on where the butterflies came from, and most of all, on the attraction that still burns between him and Simon.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This second story takes place about a fortnight after the events of The Caldwell Ghost.  Robert is tasked with writing a piece for the paper regarding the mysterious deaths of two men and heads to Winchester to investigate.  There, to his surprise and ultimately, pleasure, he encounters Simon Feximal, who is investigating on behalf of the Chief Constable.  Two men were found dead in nearby woods covered in butterflies, with butterflies in their mouths and down their throats. To solve the mystery, both men visit the local butterfly expert and Robert stumbles upon some interesting vandalism at the Cathedral. The story is neat and compact and chilling.  The end is perfect in a Tales of the Unexpected kind of way. (Although I don’t know that I will regard butterflies as harmless pretty creatures anymore.)  The romance is developed a little more, with both men being a bit more up front about what they would like.

Frankly, I’m always a bit awestruck by those who can write short so well.  Butterflies was a gem.

 

Remnant 

(*co-written by Jordan L. Hawk)

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  London, 1899. The beautiful people are dying…

A malevolent power is attacking London’s bright young things, and the only clue to what’s happening is written in ancient Egyptian script. As ghost-hunter Simon Feximal and his companion Robert Caldwell investigate the mysterious deaths, the arrival in London of a notorious scholar-sorcerer seems to hold the answer to more than one of their problems.

A quiet break in London while en route to Egypt turns dramatic for Dr Percival Endicott Whyborne and his lover Griffin Flaherty when they encounter the hostile ghost-hunter. Feximal clearly suspects the worst of Whyborne – and his flirtatious sidekick seems to think a great deal too well of Griffin…

Jordan L Hawk’s heroes Whyborne and Griffin meet KJ Charles’ occult detectives from the Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal in a mystery that takes all four lovers through the decadent underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of an ancient and deadly evil.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I haven’t read Stormhaven yet, so I admit to skimming those bits which covered the plot of that book so I didn’t (overly) spoil myself.  About double the length of Butterflies, Remnant is told in alternative chapters/POV of Robert Caldwell and Percival Whyborne.  It works very well here because Simon is the ghost hunter and he mostly works with Whyborne (so we have a first hand account of events of the ghostly nature) and Robert and Griffin are the investigators (so we have a first hand account of enquiries as well) and when the two couples are by themselves, each has a POV too.  It sounds kind of obvious I guess but it was cleverly done and entirely suited all the characters – I felt like I had the full story and never missed out.

The mystery story doesn’t try to do too much – one of the features of all three short stories is that the mystery has been relatively straight forward.  There isn’t time to have multiple clues and red herrings and suspects and all three shorts use their space well I think.  The mystery is spooky without being too convoluted for the length available.  I do think that perhaps this mystery wasn’t quite as well executed as the earlier two – some key information for the reader shows up only late in the piece and it is the kind of information that makes everything make sense.  Perhaps I’m being unfair but it felt a little “dropped in”.

That said, I definitely enjoyed the way the two pair of gentlemen worked together, the light flirtation between Robert and Griffin and the deep discomfort Whyborne has for Simon’s method of ghostly communication.

I am deeply deeply interested to read more from The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal – in particular regarding the mysterious cartouche and the tear-shaped scar, both of which are borne by Robert.  (I tweeted the author and she informs me that more stories are planned. Hooray!)   I do hope that Griffin and Whyborne will get a chance to work together with Simon and Robert again too – this outing was a lot of fun.


In summary:

Of the 3 stories, I probably enjoyed Butterflies the best, but The Caldwell Ghost has the best opener and Remnant has my favourite quote.

Let me be understood. I cannot speak lightly of what Simon is to me. He had risked more than his life for my sake; the cartouche embedded in my hand tells something of what I endured for him. He is a man of shadows, darkly driven, demanding, often humourless, never easy, and repellently foul-tempered at breakfast, but he is Simon, and that is all.

Notwithstanding, a man may look.

Recommended.

Grade: B+/A-

 

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