What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘butler’? Is it the stereotypical English gentleman, staple of stage comedies and old black and white movies? Is it Geoffrey, the cynical butler from hit 90s TV series “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”? Maybe your mental image of the perfect gentleman’s gentleman is more like Sean Pertwee’s rough and ready Alfred Pennyworth, from TV’s “Gotham”—one level up from a two-fisted London street thug.
The butler as the penultimate gentleman servant goes back a long way. In the beginning, as now, he was the chief manservant of a noble household. From the ancient chief cupbearers of Egypt to today’s astonishingly capable major-domo (who is sometimes a woman, not a man) the butler has long been a necessary fixture in the households of the rich, the aristocratic, and the famous.
My novel My Man Walter explores what happens when a newspaper reporter – Walter Godfrey – finds himself of necessity thrust into the intimate sphere of Chase Gordon, a billionaire inventor and famous recluse who was rendered an invalid after the death of his parents in a plane crash. Walter writes for the New York Times, and his speciality is the mafia. It’s an area of expertise that lands him in a world of trouble, since Walter has a bad habit of exposing questionable mob doings:
the building […] was slated for demolition[…], razed to make way for a brand-new nightclub that was to be a front for the Masetti crime family’s latest foray into drug trafficking and prostitution. Masetti wanted to up the ante, so he and his top man, Fatty Veranda, had been sniffing around for the kind of girls you couldn’t get locally, and he was planning to bring them in from South America, Bosnia, and Africa. That many of them didn’t speak English hardly mattered—Veranda and his cronies weren’t hiring them to talk. The girls were essentially abducted from their home countries and pressed into sexual slavery.
Walter’s new job at Chase Gordon’s Long Island mansion lands him in the typical fish-out-of-water situation. Unlike most butlers today, many of whom studied at the prestigious International Butler Academy (www.butlerschool.com) or the Starkey International Institute (http://www.starkeyintl.com/) Walter has no training in how to correctly fold a napkin (or whether he should use the Chevon, Clown Hat, Cockscomb, French Lily, or Mitre style of folding)—and his knowledge of the correct fork to use when eating shrimp is patchy at best. The potential for disaster is considerable. When Walter attempts to cook a chicken for his master’s lunch, the results are about what you’d expect. Instructed by the estate’s chief butler, Juliet Lavish, to cook “Chicken, under the broiler, and don’t forget to baste with the drippings throughout, or it will be dry” Walter manages to make a complete cock-up of the whole business:
Walter had the salad dressing under relative control when a loud, shrieking noise cut through the kitchen. “The smoke alarm. Fuck.” Thick clouds of black smoke roiled from the oven, very quickly turning the air a dull, unhealthy gray. He dove for the oven door and let it fall open, reaching for the hot grill pan without thinking; it seared a jagged hole in his palm, the same hand only recently healed from his nasty encounter with a bottle of mustard. He dropped the pan. The chicken—now badly charred—slid off the pan as if in slow motion and fell on the floor. The pain in his hand was so intense, it brought him to the edge of tears.
Thankfully, there are compensations: Walter’s wound is tended by hunky Chase Gordon, his putative lord and master, and having to crouch close to Chase while he bandages Walter’s wound is no great sacrifice. Eventually, Walter gets better at handling a mop while Chase gets better at being a boyfriend—Walter’s boyfriend. Walter never does learn how to be a good butler and, while impeccable in his dress and deportment (“walk meaningfully and in a slightly assertive way; this will make you seem purposeful rather than frightened”—Nicholas Clayton) he can’t quite manage the finer niceties of household service. It doesn’t matter to Chase, however. Whether Walter ever masters the art of polishing the silver is beside the point. He knows Walter is the man to give him his happily ever after.
Clayton, Nicholas. A Butler’s Guide to Gentlemen’s Grooming. London: 2010. Anova Books
MacPherson, Charles. The Butler Speaks: a Guide to Stylish Entertaining, Etiquette and the Art of Good Housekeeping. New York: 2013. Appetite Books
My Man Walter by J.S. Cook
Billionaire inventor Chase Gordon has just turned forty—and everything in his ordered little world is going to hell in an Hermès bag. His acerbic English butler Juliet Lavish has decided to retire. The humanitarian church founded by his late parents has suddenly gone broke—in the middle of the jungle—in Honduras. Lastly, NYPD detective Brian Schrade wants to use Chase’s palatial mansion to hide Walter Godfrey, a newspaper reporter who might know something about a recent rash of mob-related business deals. Part of the deal is the conniving, misanthropic Alec Pratt, son of a local newspaper mogul and unapologetic police informant who just might have a teensy weensy crush on Brian Schrade.
But Walter isn’t safe, not at Chase’s residence or anywhere else. His too-frequent forays into the city—against Brian Schrade’s advice—make him a target, and his strong attraction to Chase Gordon is setting him up for some serious heartbreak. When Chase goes to Honduras to investigate the state of his family’s failing fortunes, he adds another trouble to the long list: he’s been set up for kidnapping.
Review by Elaine White
Book – My Man Walter
Author – J.S. Cook
Star rating – ★★☆☆☆
No. of Pages – 236
Movie Potential – ★★★★☆ (probably better on screen)
Ease of reading – confusing and discombobulating
Would I read it again – Probably not.
** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE PUBLISHER, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **
Warning: Contains graphic and possibly upsetting details about 9/11 that could be a trigger for some people. A few mentions, in particular, that I thought came across as a little insensitive.
This review may contain spoilers!
Truthfully, this story and I didn’t get along. We were like two people on a debate team, constantly arguing about things. Why? Because, despite the great foundations, the building work is shoddy. This isn’t a diss to the author, it’s just an observation. This story could have been brilliant had the little niggles of inconsistencies and confusion been avoided. I truly believe that a few beta readers could have helped with this.
A 2.5 rating is really low for me. I hate marking below a 3 but the animosity between this book and I provoked it. I can’t even say that things got better after the first 50%. The story progressed more quickly, but the problems were still there.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the author’s writing style, since they liked to use really odd word choices that disrupted my reading, because they felt so out of place (Example: vituperative, diktats, warp and weft). A few times, I had to check my dictionary to make sure the word meant what I thought it meant and that it made sense in the sentence. More often than not, it didn’t and I could have thought of a few replacements that would have fitted better.
Let me explain in detail:
“My Man Walter” was a title that reminded me of a recent read “My Man Declan”, which I loved. I presumed the two – both being about a rich, aristocratic guy falling for his butler – would be similar, but in different eras. Walter is contemporary, while Declan was historical and paranormal. No such thing. Unfortunately, Walter is only a fake butler – a terrible one, at that – and doesn’t do anything more than clean a few rooms. Literally, we never really see him doing butler duties, except one attempt at cooking and one scene with cleaning.
Sadly, the blurb which intrigued me so much didn’t prove true. Not to mention that it gave too much away, that should have been left as a surprise, since the blurb removes all concern over Walter, during the first Chapter. We already know he makes it as far as Chase’s residence, so why worry about the harm he’s in before that?
“But Walter isn’t safe, not at Chase’s residence or anywhere else. His too-frequent forays into the city—against Brian Schrade’s advice—make him a target, (he was a target to begin with, so this is a moot point) and his strong attraction to Chase Gordon is setting him up for some serious heartbreak (Not true! There is no “strong attraction” unless they mean in the physical sense, since these twos have very little chemistry). When Chase goes to Honduras to investigate the state of his family’s failing fortunes, he adds another trouble to the long list: he’s been set up for kidnapping.”
Also, a big No-No was that the Prologue told me things were in motion that hadn’t actually happened yet. They didn’t happen until the end of Chapter 1. So, during the moments I should have been concerned about a character’s safety or worried about how a situation might turn out, I didn’t need to because I’d already been told, in the Prologue, that everything would be fine. It really confused and frustrated me, so much so that I actually flicked back and forth between events in Chapter 1 and the Prologue, to check I wasn’t reading it wrong.
Sadly, I believe the Prologue was placed there strategically, to grab the readers interest. Without it, the story would begin with a really long winded description of Chase and his life. It wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, but it would have made more sense to have the story played out in order. Also, it doesn’t help that the blurb advertises that the story is all about Chase, when really he’s only an on-page character for 60% of the book. Even then, he doesn’t do anything important until after the 50% mark. Most of the time he’s acting like a grumpy old man or doing the ‘pathetic and lonely’ routine. I read more of Walter and Alec’s POV than I ever did of Chase.
The romance I expected to find was so limited that this would be classed more as gay literature or a crime drama, not a gay romance or M/M romance. Plus, what little romance there was ended up being confusing at times and mostly between the two side characters – Brian Schrade and his informant, Alec. Other than admiring each other’s appearance once in a while, we don’t get any chemistry or even flirting between Chase and Walter, until after they have sex. Their whole “romance” felt a little too contrived for me because it came out of thin air and was suddenly supposed to feel hot and intense when it was nothing of the sort. This, however, could be down to my complete lack of caring or compassion for the characters. More on that later.
The romance aspect really let me down. But, the crime aspect was also a disappointment. Things happened that should have been physically impossible. Despite enduring the same beating, at different points of the plot, Walter walked away from his, while Alec still got to his feet, but then collapsed. Walter was absolutely fine, with no mention of lasting injuries etc, while Alec ended up in hospital, in an induced coma. Considering the attacks were by the same people, with the same intent, there’s no reason that one should be better off than the other. Particularly when Walter’s beating had the words “jumped on him”.
Now, I’m sorry, but anyone who has been jumped on by a Mafia’s heavy built bodyguard, would not be able to get up and walk. They would have broken, or, at least, cracked, ribs, plus many other injuries, including internal bleeding. Also, the beating is interrupted by someone shouting at his attackers, yet Walter lies there for at least half an hour, without anyone coming to help. Then he finds his mobile and calls a taxi to pick him up, rather than phoning an ambulance. It made no sense.
Despite a lot of action – something “dangerous” was almost always happening – it got a little tedious. I got bored waiting for the big climax, which ended up being a disappointment because it was over really quickly and resolved so easily. With so many shady characters, I really expected a big bang at the end, but it never came.
Quite honestly, I would have DNF’d this at around the 30% mark if I wasn’t reading to review. Having finished, I know that would have been a mistake, as this story had some really good foundation to it. It just didn’t come off properly, on paper.
There was no warning when changing from one POV in one scene to a different character’s POV in the next. Every scene was merely separated with 2 empty lines, then the first two words in capitals. There was no definition to the POV’s or the timeline – no warning of how long in days or weeks had passed, which often made the reading confusing and difficult to follow. While one scene might start with Walter’s POV, sometimes it would shift drastically to being Chase or Alec’s POV and I would begin to wonder whose head I was supposed to be in and whose side all those “he” or “his” were coming from.
There was also no warning when entering a memory. Normally, these things are put into italics or separated from the story with some kind of warning about how long ago it was. This book had none of that. One minute someone is in the present, then you’re reading about the past, often in the same scene, in the same voice and in present tense. It got very, very confusing.
Mostly, there are a lot of silly little things that don’t add up – Walter going out into the city, trying to work, when he’s been placed in protective custody; a ‘romance’ that is little more than noticing how attractive each other is, on page; no one realising that Walter’s safety may have been compromised when his photo was printed in the newspapers, advertising where he was living. There are more, but these are the real niggles. It feels too much like the author had a plan of how the story was going to progress but didn’t really think it through and it ended up making the characters – and sometimes the plot – seem incredulous.
Also, Walter wears a wedding ring through 70% of the book, but Chase never asks about it and doesn’t think twice about having sex with him. It takes until 93% for them to actually discuss it and for Walter to admit that he’d been married. Yet, his husband was supposed to have been his whole world. If they’d really bonded, while off page together, Chase should have known or, at least, had a hint of that past.
I’ll be honest, as a main character, Walter was too weak for my taste. He was unconscious for at least 20% of the book (or what felt like it) and completely stupid, idiotic and pointless for another 40%. Despite being placed in Chase’s house as a butler, for his own safety, he continually appeared surprised when he left the premises, only to suffer a beating, kidnapping attempt or some such thing. He also, irritatingly, stuck to his journalistic background like glue. Even in a situation where his first thought should have been for his own safety or Chase’s safety, he was more interested in asserting his authority over his story.
For me, Alec was the shining light of this book. I loved him, every minute. His relationship with Brian had more chemistry in a few moments than Chase and Walter shared during the entire book. His flashbacks were relevant and his story written the best of all the characters. If this book had been about him and Brian, I’d have happily let some things slide. But it wasn’t. At least, it wasn’t supposed to be. Yet, the entire Epilogue is about them. I took an entire star off my rating because Alec and Brian’s story was more romantic, more thorough, better explored and more realistic than the two MC’s romance was. Also, because the MC’s are supposed to be in the Epilogue, not the side characters.
I had a limited connection to Chase, who was great at the beginning, but who became really predictable and sour as the book went on. He and Walter had no on-page romance, no bonding, no connecting in any way that we were allowed to witness and experience. In fact, most of their encounters were with other people. The only times we really get to see the couple together are when they’re having sex or when Chase was tending to Walter’s wound, at the beginning. The rest all happens behind closed doors, off page and that, I feel, is the reason their “romance” didn’t feel at all genuine. I removed another star for this alone.
As someone in a wheelchair – though not permanently – I understood Chase, at the beginning of the book. I got the loneliness, the isolation and the sullenness, the wish to be invisible, but after a while, he got a little tiresome to read. It was too much of the same thing, over and over again. The same could be said for Walter, who didn’t really do much of note, except make stupid decisions and get threatened a lot.
Sadly, I’m not sure the author has any experience in a wheelchair, even for a short amount of time. I may be wrong, but then little instances like this shouldn’t have appeared, because it’s impossible, unless you physically lift the wheelchair off the ground and do a lot of shuffling.
“He checked that the wheels were locked and pulled the chair a little closer.”
Now, backwards, this makes sense. You move the chair, then lock the wheels. Not the other way around.
Oh, and hand cream as lube cannot be sanitary!
This could have been a great read if marketed properly. The romance aspect is too weak to be an M/M or gay romance. It would make a good crime novel, with some changes, but it’s not a romance novel, at heart.
The chapters were too long, the POV’s were confusing and often mingled. The flashbacks were often pointless and didn’t add anything to the story, except a history of a side character that we really didn’t need.
There was a lot of pointless action, especially in Chapter 1, which was rendered almost completely unnecessary because of the Prologue, which gave too much away. With a reshuffle of the order chapters appears in, this could have been a much more concise book and read a lot easier. With one POV per chapter, it would also have been easier to keep track of what was happening, but even if there hadn’t been so many slips from one POV to another, within the same scene, it would still have read better.
I could happily have removed the entire Prologue and Epilogue without losing any of the story. I don’t really see the point of the Epilogue, since neither of the main characters was in it, except to tell us what happened to Alec and Brian later on, which I didn’t really need to see.
The plot and characters – and some rare scenes – are five stars worthy. But, the confusing timeline, giving away secrets in the Prologue, the lack of a real romance or chemistry between the main characters and the general messy state of the plot (in terms of execution), mean that this can’t be any more than 2.5 stars for me.
With some simple rearrangements – with only small edits, to weed out those mixing POV’s – this could have been brilliant. The confusing state of 90% of the story really outweighs the genius of the remaining 10%. Confused and kind of all over the place, this only needed some beta readers or someone with a keen eye to check it over for plot consistency.
Unfortunately, with too many issues, this one flopped, in my opinion. Badly. It had so much promise, but it just couldn’t deliver.
“He rested his head back against the couch. “I waited five years.”
“Hmm?” Schrade looked up from his phone. “Yeah, five years.” His brow furrowed. “For what?”
About the Author
J.S. Cook was born in a tiny fishing village on the seacoast of Newfoundland. Her love of writing manifested itself early when her mother, impressed with the quality of a school assignment she’d written, sent it to the editor of the local paper – who published it. Since then she has written novels, short stories, novellas, plays, radio scripts and some really, really bad poetry. She has worked as a housekeeper, nanny, secretary, publisher, parliamentary editor and a university lecturer, although this last convinced her never to step foot inside a classroom again. She holds a B.A. (Honors) and an M.A. in English Language and Literature, and a B.Ed in post-secondary education. She loves walking and once spent six hours walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland. She maintains she wasn’t lost, just “looking around”. She makes her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, with her husband of 27 years and her spoiled rotten ‘dogter’, Lola, who always gets her own way.