Whistling in the Dark By Tamara Allen

 Whistling in the Dark By Tamara Allen


His career as a concert pianist ended by a war injury, Sutton Albright returns to college, only to be expelled after an affair with a teacher. Unable to face his family, he heads to New York with no plans and little money—only a desire to call his life his own.

Jack Bailey lost his parents to influenza and now hopes to save the family novelty shop by advertising on the radio, a medium barely more than a novelty, itself. His nights are spent in a careless and debauched romp through the gayer sections of Manhattan.

When these two men cross paths, despite a world of differences separating them, their attraction cannot be denied. Sutton finds himself drawn to the piano, playing for Jack. But can his music heal them both, or will sudden prosperity jeopardize their chance at love?




I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to the author for sending this book along to me for review. I completely regret my decline of the print copy and must indeed buy one at the very first opportunity – and anyone reading this should do so as well. A truly lovely story in a brilliantly crafted world with charming characters that draw you into a story so engaging and absorbing, you wish it never had to end.  But all stories must end and this one ends on a wonderfully romantic note that will resonate with readers and keep this as a must read in the future. With an attention to detail and descriptive prose, this story takes the time to develop and let the characters fully emerge. The slow blooming romance and lack of explicit sex is well worth the wait.

Jack is a delightful character as a cynical, scarred, flirtatious, and outrageous young man. He’s emotionally troubled from the war and struggles with his parents’ death, while trying to maintain the shop his father spent his life creating. Bad choices and decisions often plague Jack as he attempts to insulate himself from the world with a boisterous personality, hiding his true emotions deeply within. Often accused of lacking depth, Jack in fact has an immense loyalty and fear of abandonment that prompts him to keep an emotional distance from those around him. Only a select few actually see and understand the man beneath his often-flamboyant exterior. The shear complexity of his character could easily have overwhelmed the story but the author’s deft hand kept Jack as charming and immensely appealing even as he was inscrutable for more than the half of the story.

Sutton is an easier character to like and openly transparent from early on. A young man from a prominent and wealthy family struggling to find his place after the war and being kicked out of school for an indiscretion with a teacher. Sutton is a dreamer, hopeless romantic, painfully open and naïve, yet he is well aware of these aspects of his personality. He simply doesn’t see them as flaws as others might. He’s willing to work hard and his love of music often pulls him into his own thoughts and world. He and Jack are very well suited with their balancing personalities and steadfast support and understanding. Their attraction and chemistry was not instant but took time to grow as their friendship grew. Their eventual first kiss scene was highly inventive, humorous, and incredibly satisfying for just being a simple kiss. This mixture of humor, romance, sensuality, and originality typifies this unique and wonderful story.

The historical setting of New York in early 1920’s was skillfully and masterfully crafted from the incredible details, both large and small, even down to the weather of early fall. The day-to-day struggles with life, money, heat, food, and making a living give an authentic voice to the story and keep the characters grounded in the reality the author has created. Sutton and Jack never get the easy way as often in romance novels, no sudden windfall of money or sudden fix to their problems. They have to pawn their valuables for a few nickels to eat that night, worry about losing their job, their livelihood, if the radiator will give enough heat that night, live on borrowed credit and accept the consequences of poor decisions and wrong choices.

These details were a welcome addition to the charming turning of time when in a few months before prohibition, the decadence of the gay lifestyle was given shine. The hints of anonymous bath houses, the automat, free and easy encounters, open affection amongst friends, even getting thrown out of restaurants for daring to dance with another man. However, for the acceptance within the small bubble around Jack, there are hints of the outside world as men still hide within arranged marriages and homosexuals are arrested for being in the park late at night. Each example was given in the same tone and honest voice, lending an even quality to the pacing and prose.

Just as the additional characters were all given weight and purpose from the charming and irrepressible Theo, Miles, and even Lewis to Sutton’s family all of whom showed a different aspect of the time period with prevalent and changing attitudes. Henry, Ox, and Es were wonderfully created as they added a depth and layering to the gently built story. Each clearly had their own personality and their lives are easy to imagine well beyond the end of the story. Even the cast of Ned, Gert, and Marshall were nice touches without being over the top or stereotypes. Perhaps not as essential to the plot, they were necessary and added to the texture of the time and story.

I did have a few problems with the story, although I will stress these were minor. The added scenes of Ned attempting to manipulate the shop’s demise with the threat of exposure was one too many problems that didn’t need to happen and felt comical, as did the obvious resolution. Additionally, Sutton’s family’s reaction to his statements towards the end was surprising and somewhat not keeping with the story. The author creates a wonderful and believable tension amongst the various members with Sutton and Jack, which leads to the final problem and resolution between the two men, yet the reactions were too pat. Given the setup previous, it seemed too easy unfortunately.

Also, while Jack’s noble gesture was easily seen and predictable, Sutton’s acceptance felt unbelievable and out of character. One of the best qualities of the book was the character development and growth both Sutton and Jack went through and the ending seemed to regress both completely back to the beginning of the novel before the final resolution at the end. While clearly something had to be done to prompt the declarations neither were saying, this felt predictable and out of character at the same time. Both Sutton and Jack had grown beyond their reactions and I felt this scene could have happened another way with the same outcome.

However, my qualms were minimal as the writing was lovely, inventive, descriptive, original, and engrossing. The prose was engaging and delightful with a lovely, slow build of plot, romance, and characters that develops the story at its own pace, but entirely worthwhile. The sweetly romantic relationship between the men is typical of the story with the lack of any explicit sex and the language, while not formal lacks modern swearing and slang. However, for as romantic as this story is, it’s never sappy or overly sweet. The men are masculine men with strengths and weaknesses and this story is likely to appeal to more than just m/m romance fans. This is a fabulous piece of fiction and I easily recommend it. The print version will be sliding onto my keeper shelf.

Get it HERE!


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5 thoughts on “Whistling in the Dark By Tamara Allen

  1. hi, Kassa!
    I know reviews are for readers, but they can be learning experiences for authors, especially when a review shares details of just what worked and what didn’t work for the reviewer. I value that because I believe it will help me become a better writer. Thank you for reading the book and taking the time to give an enlightening and entertaining review.

    • Re: hi, Kassa!
      Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’m shocked it took so long to get published (other than self-publishing) but very impressed that Lethe picked it up. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book you publish. Your attention to detail and focus on plot and characters shows the strength of your writing, even without sex (yes yes I said it!).

  2. Hi, Kassa, great review — very analytical and in-depth! It really is the best compliment you can pay an author. Tamara put it really well: “learning experiences for authors.” Not just for authors but for other reviewers, too! I always learn a lot from your reviews.
    Wasn’t that first kiss scene great? That’s just one of many scenes that I loved. I know that there is a tendency in our genre to pour on the erotica, but I hope that the growing acclaim of Whistling in the Dark will help pave the way for other m/m books that don’t necessarily want to emphasize sex because sometimes I think the less-sexual romances are finding it hard to get published, however well-written.

    • I loved that first kiss scene! And the fact that everything was fade to black. I’m a perv and like the sex of course, I mean really what genre *are* we reading. But I still love fabulous fiction that focuses on characters and plot. I’m perfectly fine with fade to black if it suits the story. In this case I think explicit sex would have been jarring so it fits.

      • I know just what you mean! I, too, have a preference for hot sex scenes in our genre overall, but I thought Whistling in the Dark was done just perfectly as what people call a “sweet” romance without the bedroom scenes.
        I also hope that sweet romances don’t get crowded out of the market by the readers’ preference for erotica (and maybe the success of Whistling in the Dark will help here) — because there should be a place for great stories like this that need to be told in this way.

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