The Master of Seacliff
by Max Pierce
Harrington Park Press, 201 pages
$16.95 ISBN-10: 1560236361
Reviewed by Steven LaVigne
Classic romantic Gay literature and the gothic novel were made for one another, because they often share similar elements. Set in an earlier time, such as the idyllic 19th century of Henry James, there’s a peculiar setting, frequently an old, possibly haunted, dark house by the sea. One of the leading characters is struggling with his homosexuality, so he’s angry, and brooding, hiding his mysterious past. The other leading character is a young and virginal hero, who, like a fish out of water, meets other characters who’d love to relieve him of his virginity. Throughout the story, there are assorted lascivious secondary characters, although one of them wisely dispenses advice to this virginal hero. Finally, there’s the domestic who knows everything, and reveals nothing.
Nowhere are these elements this more evident than in Max Pierce’s terrific novel, The Master of Seacliff. Furthermore, like those gothic novels, this is a pleasurable, entertaining read.
The story focuses on Andrew Wyndham, a talented artist. In order to earn enough so he can relocate to Paris and continue his studies, Andrew accepts a position tutoring Tim, the young son of Duncan Stewart, an industrialist. (Does this sound a little bit like Jane Eyre?) Stewart supposedly murdered his father so he could control the family business. Although this hasn’t been proven, when Andrew arrives at Seacliff, a dark, old house, which reminds us of Misselthwaite Manor, the setting for The Secret Garden. Andrew’s immediately at odds with both the son and the father. Alternatively attracted and repelled by the handsome Stewart, Andrew sets about doing his work, but he’s soon drawn into unraveling the mystery and scandal of the murder, and the disappearance of Stewart’s former lover, the talented pianist Stephen Charles.
I was halfway through this novel before I realized that it The Master of Seacliff is really a Gay variation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic, Rebecca, Duncan Stewart is this version’s Mr. DeWinter, the manservant, Fellowes filling in for Mrs. Danvers, and Andrew is the narrator-wife character. Pierce fills his novel with plenty of the right twists and turns, including a pair of lusty siblings to confuse Andrew, plenty of action (softly sexual and otherwise) at Seacliff’s various locations, and more than a few red herrings.
The Master of Seacliff is a real page-turner. It’s perfect for curling up in a comfortable chair with during those chilly Autumn nights alone.
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