Published by: Manifold Press
Genre: historical romance/spy/secret agent romance
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Anya
What to Expect: Delightful slow-build spy romance with a cross-dressing MC
Plot: Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale – a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot – Miles Siward moves into a ‘couples only’ boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s ‘wife’. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.
Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.
Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?
The clock is ticking.
Review: I was never a huge fan of espionage novels because I thought that politics of any era would bore me. I loved Elin Gregory’s previous novel (if you love pirate stories, On a Lee Shore is a GEM!) and I’m happy I decided to give Eleventh Hour a chance.
Elin Gregory takes great care with setting up the plot in interwar years, convincingly illustrating the tense relationships between different countries post Great War and the fear of anarchist groups that try to undermine the fragile peace. She portrays the atmosphere in 1920s when gay men had to hide any sign of their inclination and a cross-dressing man would be ridiculed and ostracized by his colleagues and even his family members. The time when the guessing game of “is he? isn’t he?” becomes dangerous and approaching the wrong person can ruin a person’s life.
Miles is definitely the shining star of this book for me. He is the young, less experienced brother of a famous spy, his family has a history of working for the government and there is a pressure on him to be equally successful. There is a constant desire on his part to prove himself, to his brother and his co-workers, who find his cross-dressing for the job demeaning. I enjoyed the complexity of Miles’ character, the cross-dressing is his way of life, not a kink but a part of him that he cherishes and protects fiercely even when he thinks it would never be accepted by anyone else around him. He is a talented linguist and an actor and I admire that he doesn’t let other people’s negativity towards him to completely take away his confidence. Even when his belief in himself falters, Millie is there to keep him on track.
His Millie is a diva and a lioness, a woman of her period and yet so much more. I like the juxtaposition of her sassy persona and Miles’ gentler disposition. Dissimilar to some stories featuring cross-dressing characters I’ve read in the past, Millie is not a separate entity but an integral part of Miles, he is always present even after the transformation.
At the first glance, Briers looks like a complete opposite of Miles. He’s more of a Bond-esque type of spy, manly and rough, ready to seduce or kill whenever necessary, always with his mind of the job. As the story progresses, we see other sides of Briers: his need to protect the people he loves, his loyalty and sense of humor. Despite Briers’ tough guy exterior and coming on too strong at times, his acceptance of Millie as a vital part of Miles is what endeared him to me the most.
“And if you fancy giving Millie an airing that’s fine with me,” he whispered. “Long weekend in Brighton? Or just about the house when you’ve had a bad day. Or if you happen to feel like it. I’d be delighted to see her.”
“You mean it?” Miles stared at him, saw the answer in his smile and beamed in reply.
After he gets to know Miles better, Briers realizes how valuable Miles is as a professional and wants to defend that when others try to undermine Miles’ work. I think Miles was waiting for someone to finally look past his looks (in and out of cross-dressing) and acknowledge that he is just as strong and worthy as any other man. Their romance is a gradual process that grows beyond uncertainty and desire into something vital for both of them.
On a final note, I adore any book with great secondary characters and Elin Gregory does a fantastic job in this novel with brilliant Pritchard (Miles’ manservant) and sexy German spy Falk (I would love him to have his own story! Sequel, pretty please?).
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you: The story is slow-paced and it takes some time to get into the plot and the relationship between MCs but it’s definitely worth it.
What you will love: Intricate world building, intrigues and plot twists, sex scenes that will leave you HAPPY and wanting more, MILLIE is everything and Pritchard is the best manservant ever!
When not reading for pleasure, Anya is proofreading so it’s ALL THE BOOKS ALL THE TIME for her. She absolutely loves introducing people to new books and share the moment of “SQUEEE that book is amazing!” with them.
Connect with her: @shiny_luv