“His face tells a story of a million rainy days... His eyes show a deepness in a thousand different ways... His clothes are ragged and they’re torn, but he lights up the darkness with the music that he plays... They call him mandolin man ‘cos no one knows his name, no one knows his story, no one knows his pain.” ~ Hennesea
Charles Riche, in 'Man With The Mandolin', is not a happy man. He's doing his best to fulfill his obligation to his widowed mother and maiden aunt after his father dies running their ballet troupe; to say his heart isn't in it is a huge understatement. Charles does have a guilty pleasure which brings him a little happiness. Every day he watches a street musician play his mandolin and has fantasies about being with him. The other people in his life are more of a bother to him than anything else; his temperamental aunt, doting mother, the forward waiter, and the prima donna who may be the person to save their struggling ballet troupe. Charles struggles with his desires, disappointments, and self-deprecation, but he never gives up. Charles presents himself with as much dignity as he can, while resisting the forces that could destroy him.
Charles's life is complicated. He had dreams of another life, but little hope they will ever come to fruition. Charles must hold himself back in many facets of his life; especially in his desire for other men. He doesn't want just anyone. Charles yearns for meaningful encounters, not just quick interludes with no emotional satisfaction whatsoever. Charles feels incompetent enough without other people belittling and taking advantage of him. Charles is also quite vulnerable Charles is suspicious of Valentin, even though he knows the man may be the ballet troupe’s savior. Although a magnificent dancer, Charles doesn't believe he is who he says he is and as the clues multiply, he's even more sure of it. Charles tries to like Valentin, or at least get along with him, but after enduring several insulting remarks, and unkind actions toward him, this is his assessment:“He may have been beautiful on the outside. Inside, he was as ugly as sin.”Eventually the desire he felt in the beginning for Valentin evaporates altogether; his problems with other men endure. Paulo, the waiter at the cafe he frequents, is constantly hitting on him. Knowing his vulnerability, Paulo seduces him, then tries to use this information against Charles.
There is another man in his life, Stefan, the man with the mandolin. He barely notices Charles at first, but Charles is persistent hanging around as often as he can and trying to get his attention. With a smile here, a wink there, they finally begin to interact. Add this attraction to a torrential downpour and need for shelter, and this results in a very steamy interlude. It is superbly written, accentuating both emotion and passion between the men, clearly differentiating Charles's interaction with Stefan and that of Paulo and Valentin. In other words, it is very hot and sensual! Even though Charles now has Stefan's attention, he still knows very little about him; there is still much to be revealed and many obstacles to overcome. The difference is, Charles no longer has to to face life alone; Stefan now has his back and knowing that makes a huge difference in Charles's attitude and self-confidence.
As the many secrets come to life and the loose ends neatly tied up; I got a great deal of satisfaction realizing that I'd made correct assumptions about many of the main issues in the book. Charles Raines’s books always intrigue me; his mysteries always give me everything I need to discern what's happening. All the clues are neatly tucked into the story and, although it's often a real challenge sorting them out; it's well worth it. I was also thrilled that this story was more romantic than any of his previous books. As good as they are, his stories usually don't have a lot of romance, but this book is an exception. I sincerely hope that Charles considers writing more romantic stories in the future. The French phrases in the book add a great deal to the ambiance, giving it an international flavor. Charles's compact style, awesome vocabulary, and the nuances he uses for clues, are exhilarating. Adding even more romance, Charles has dedicated this passionate love story to his man with the mandolin, his husband and the love of his life, Steve.
I recommend this book to everyone wanting to read a superbly written book, with awesomely flawed characters, lots of secrets and suspense, and a good resolution. Thank you, Charles, for another great adventure in reading.