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The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

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A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell
September 1914

The complete story of Robert and Simon, including The Caldwell Ghost (which is no longer available separately) and Butterflies, plus a whole lot of brand new stories, taking the tale of the Victorian ghost-hunter and his narrator/sidekick/lover up to the events of Remnant: A Caldwell & Feximal/Whyborne & Griffin Mystery and beyond...

This book will cover a number of ghostly mysteries, along with evil cults, mysterious skin runes, and illicit Victorian shenanigans between the decidedly forceful Simon and the entirely shameless Robert.

251 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 16, 2015

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About the author

K.J. Charles

59 books8,628 followers
KJ is a writer of romance, mostly m/m, historical or fantasy or both. She blogs about writing and editing at http://kjcharleswriter.com.

She lives in London, UK, with her husband, two kids, and a cat of absolute night.

Twitter https://twitter.com/kj_charles
Join the lively Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/13876...
Sign up to the (infrequent) newsletter at http://kjcharleswriter.com/newsletter

Please **do not** message me on Goodreads as I no longer check the inbox due to unwanted messages.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 588 reviews
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,628 followers
March 27, 2017
The complete story of Robert and Simon, including The Caldwell Ghost (which is no longer available separately) and Butterflies, plus a whole lot of brand new stories, taking the tale of the Victorian ghost-hunter and his narrator/sidekick/lover up to the events of Remnant: A Caldwell & Feximal/Whyborne & Griffin Mystery and beyond...

This book will cover a number of ghostly mysteries, along with evil cults, mysterious skin runes, and illicit Victorian shenanigans between the decidedly forceful Simon and the entirely shameless Robert.

Lots of Victorian spookiness and occult horror here, along with Robert and Simon's story. Well, just look at the cover. Hold on to your bonnets...
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,883 reviews5,799 followers
October 29, 2018
*Price drop to $0.99 at Amazon US, 10/29/18*

In the few days since I finished this book, I found myself coming back to this story more and more! I originally gave this story 4.5 stars, but I'm giving it the full 5 stars now. I just can't stop thinking about it!

Full confession: I originally DNFed this story.

Granted, it was like the first few pages, but I just didn't get it the first time around. This book has been lingering on my Kindle for a long time, and I hate having overdue review copies left unresolved, so I decided to give it another go.

And this time? I was riveted.

Sure, the style is unconventional. It is told through a journal-type format, with Robert writing out his accounts of his adventures with famed ghost hunter, Simon Feximal. Now, I never read any of the prequel stories with these characters in them, and even though this book is billed as technically the 4th in a series, you can easily just start with this story without being lost.

Despite a small period of time where I had to get used to the format, once I got into the groove of the writing, I found it to be positively divine. There is just EVERYTHING in this collection of stories: Absolutely fascinating world-building, incredible characters, lots of chemistry, and a romance that was so profound that I was almost moved to tears at times. I will forever remember Simon and Robert, and I hope that K.J. Charles creates more and more books in their world.

This is K.J. Charles doing what she does best. She is just the master at historicals with a paranormal twist, and I simply can't read her stuff fast enough.

**Copy provided in exchange for an honest review**
Profile Image for Ingie.
1,358 reviews168 followers
July 9, 2015
Written July 8, 2015

3 1/2 Stars - Nice, kind of "good enough" for KJC fans

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a newly published historical crime romance by one of the very best M/M authors out here. K.J. Charles' books are usually splendid good stories that leaves you wanting so much more of here 'worlds'. I've read them all and this shall be a joy as always.

One of the MC's is (in this casebook from 1914) telling us his memories and some of his adventurous stories from twenty years together with his lover. It was good (at last) to meet these two interesting gentlemen once again.
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‘A Note to the Editor, .. (...) ..I have decided. I shall write the Secret Casebook , record the truth of our lives— not Simon Feximal’s life alone, but Robert and Simon, together. It is for you to decide what to do with the tale when it is told.’


I liked but didn't love
Well done and parly very good and intriguing but there were also long parts that didn't catch my interest that much. In my opinion, far too cluttered, with chapters short adventure that were rather loosely connected. More depth and more about the characters would have done this better for me. ~ I expected more, maybe I had too high expectations?


It all starts in Winchester 1894...

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a just released new novel as start with the two shorter novellas, #1 - The Caldwell Ghost (4.2 stars) and #2 - Butterflies (4 stars), I read already in January last year. ~ Well written stories about the journalist Robert Caldwell and the ghost hunter Simon Feximal set in England hundred years ago.

This time we get a book filled with chapter "vignettes", each a quite short mystery case. To be honest isn't the storyline, way of telling, as intriguing as in those first two novellas. I'm not feeling that amazed feeling I usully get from Ms Charles' stories and books.
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‘But I knew in that moment, as he kissed me with such angry, loving care, that I was forgiven for my presumption in saving his life, and that was all I needed.’

No, sorry but it didn't catch me totally
Best is (’course) these short moments we get with these lovely men and their developing love-story. But there are way to few such heartwarming good scenes. I wanted more (MORE!!) about Robert & Simon, about their daily life together, about their kinky way of steam, the years that passes. —AND I just wanted to "hear" them speak with each other much much more.— Somewhere disappeared the hot and lovely romantic story I hoped for.

Up here, far away in summer Sweden, was a more and more disappointed (maybe even eye rolling and whining..) KJC-fan lady to be true. BUT, then it slowly changed —stuff happened and things were explained— a bit around 80%. (**rub hands-smiling**) this nothern lady was at once a bit happier and started to move her hips.


The feeling of old times in London and the old UK is perfectly done anyway. As always in KJC's books. London 100 years ago is dirty and smelling, there are poverty, lots of narrow (dangerous dark) streets, old shabby houses and odd (quite often nasty and ugly) people. ...And rats.
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‘I have seen many things that bewilder the senses. Sometimes I think that the depth of poverty in the greatest and wealthiest city on earth is the most astounding of all.’
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All in all was The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal nice, but not the stunning great K.J. Charles novel I'm used to get. Interesting enough to faithful fans to this author but I'm not sure new KJC readers should start here. There are other much better books to choose.

It ended in a sweet way though. I liked that dreamy feeling she left us in. ~ I can imagine...


I LIKE - these men but want more romance

A BUDDYREAD with Maya, Apeiron and Sofia the first week in July. ~ I was behind from start and my friends finished days ago and mostly loved it much more than me also. So read their happier reviews instead.
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,883 reviews5,799 followers
August 2, 2019

(Re-read in audio, read the review of my original: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is not one of K.J. Charles's most popular or flashiest books, but it holds a very special place in my heart.

I loved this book in ebook form, and I loved it just as much in audio. The narrator (Gary Furlong) did an amazing job with the voices and really helped the story come to life. I couldn't stop listening. I didn't want it to end.

If you love audiobooks and K.J. Charles, this is a must-buy.

Profile Image for MLE  .
Author 3 books88 followers
June 23, 2015
I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really liked this book. I have a weakness for ghost stories especially Victorian ghost stories, and this fit the bill wonderfully. I loved how the author worked in period stories, and characters. They worked with the characters, but never felt like they were talking over, or added where they weren't needed. It added to the period feel of the story for me plus it lead me to more of the sort of stories I like which is a nice bonus for me.


I had read the original story, and while I didn't work all that well as a stand alone for me, seeing it in the larger context made it work that much better for me. I liked seeing Simon and Robert's relationship develop. Simon's powers are interesting, and I liked that they weren't without their problems. I also love that Robert was special in his own right, and that he refused to see himself as just Simon's assistant or subordinate. I liked how well they learned to work together, and how hard they worked to make their relationship work in an unforgiving era. The secondary cast was well developed, and interesting. I enjoyed how Simon and Robert's friendships with other characters added to the story. They weren't living in a vacuum, or a world of two, and I appreciated that.


The ghost stories were a nice mix. I liked the variety, and that not every spirit was "evil." It made for entertaining reading, and helped set the story firmly in the time period. I liked how the format of the story also allowed the reader glimpses into the future, so we had ideas of what happened to the people involved after the case was finished. The ending was well done, and felt honest to the characters the times they lived in. A really good read, and everything I had hoped for.


Yay I got the ARC!

Profile Image for Moony Eliver.
309 reviews164 followers
October 25, 2019
I was frightened, confused and desperate to run for my life, or soul, but my prick was being called, and it seemed to intend to come.

4.5 stars. I had a couple dozen highlights and I wish I could share them all, but spoillllerssss. The story alternated between funny and odious, melancholy and hopeful, sexy and emotive—and every one of these aspects worked.

I've said before that KJC can sell me damn near anything, and this book is exhibit A. Ghost stories usually just make my eyes roll hard, but I loved how she built this world. The individual stories, with just a couple of exceptions, had me completely captivated. Once or twice, I felt that I would have benefited from a bit more explanation, but nothing that threw me too much.

Special shout-out to the the "Remember, Remember" chapter which gave me the serious heebee jeebees. Children are fucking scary. Or is that just me??

And the relationship between Robert and Simon, I adored. To the point where... I'm about to start the W&G series, and one of the things I'm currently the most excited about is getting to see these two again in #3.5.

"It wasn’t hell I saw, it wasn’t devils. It was people.
“It frequently is, in my experience.”

Update Oct 23, 2019: I just finished my second read via audiobook, and I hard-core loved Gary Furlong's narration. It was a perfect listen for October. I just love these characters and their story.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,978 reviews1,988 followers
March 31, 2018
Rating: a warm and fuzzy four stars of five

This isn't a novel, but a collection of connected short stories. I'm not upset by that, just noting it so others won't go in expecting something they won't get.

Most romantic fiction comes, these days, in series form. This book's series origins are in the short fiction world. Although the premise isn't unique, the untold story behind an unseen told story, it's got legs for a reason: It gives the read an intimacy, a sense that there is nothing held back, while at the same time holding back the more public face that never existed. I like that. It feels playful to me. It resembles Mark Dunn's hilarious (to me, at least) Ibid, the footnotes to a lost novel that was published in place of the novel so the loss wouldn't be total. That made me chuckle as well, for the same reason: It's playful! Too much Modren Litrachure is about as much fun to read as a root canal is to have.

Anyway, this book. I liked it for another reason: The protagonists age. They aren't 25 and 33 for the whole book. At the end of the book they're 48 and 56, explicitly stated, and have been together for 23 years. The math adds up! I damned near passed out. Too often the author doesn't do continuity like this in the world of romantic fiction.

But in addition to my squeeing about the continuity thing, I need to mention the character development. As time goes by, any of us who have had any sort of long-term relationships know that the romantic urgency flies out the window at some point. You can't sustain that level of emotional excitement forever, and what takes its place in successful relationships varies. In the case of this couple, it's a shared calling/career. But as veterans of the relationship wars know, there's another powerful force that's inevitably part of the mix: Anger. People who are close, who live in close contact, inevitably rub each other the wrong way at times. In the case of Simon and Robert, the catalyst for the true, lasting anger that invades their relationship is family-based. How exactly true and accurate.

The resolution of that particular issue is just perfect. I was half in love with Author Charles before it took place, and completely infatuated after that story was finished. Oh that more romantic fictioneers would do this, would use the real stuff of living relationships to inform our fantasy of life with The One. It doesn't detract from Robert's love of Simon, or Simon's for his anchor Robert, for the story to include Robert going against Simon's well-founded and powerful desire for Robert NOT to save Simon's life.

Find bigger stakes than that. And then find another author willing to use those stakes to change the relationship the protagonists have in a new and realistic direction while still making the magical fantasy underpinnings of the story a part of that direction.

A very satisfying read. I don't give it more stars because, in the interest of fairness, I rate it based on its novelistic success and not its interconnected story success. Had it been presented to me as a set of stories, a la Tom Rachman's Imperfectionists, I'd give it more stars. As it is, I give it my recommendation to relationship fiction fans in search of realism within their fantasy life, fantasy of life, and life of fantasy.
Profile Image for Erin *Proud Book Hoarder*.
2,473 reviews1,085 followers
October 24, 2015

“A story without an ending is an unbearable itch to the reader.”

3.5 stars

I'm gaga over K.J. Charles, I admit it. Love most of her stuff, especially Think of England and the trilogy for The Magpie Lord. Even if this wasn't a favorite like those, it was hard to put down.

A good book, non-conventional as it's told in the space of earlier cases worked together. It starts with a letter where the protagonist promises to tell his history with the infamous Simon Feximal, a paranormal investigator who reached fame through stories and reputation. The story involves some of their cases together, a few out of order, highlights of their career, and of course the romantic relationship that developed between the two. As the 'author' himself states, most of the stories are when they were younger and strengthened by youth, looking back on the starts and that magic of beginning relationships.

This book was sweet, and wonderful, and interesting - but it made my heart hurt a little at the end. I think this is the main reason it didn't reach higher star status. The writing style was great as always, the stories well told, the characters loveable, but there was this bittersweet tragedy that I felt when closing the cover. I saw it coming in advance for some reason, some foreshadowing I guess, and I ended up dreading it. It's not an unhappy ending, but there's just something about it - a touch of sadness about life's realities - that just got to me somehow. Hard to shake off.

I love how K.J. Charles throws together conflicting characters who match each other because of their differences. Simon is serious and glorious, Robert at first bumbling and adorable but later loyal and constant. There's also some side characters who work well, especially Simon's sister.

Some spicy stuff that goes on for sure, but the intensity - as always with KJ Charles talented hand - comes from the heart and emotions. The first story is the best in terms of sizzling bedroom chemistry, loved it. Each story was intriguing because - hello! - ghosts and paranormal stuff.

There's a pain about this one, but it's a great read regardless. Their relationship is so sweet, so close, and endures through the ages. It's touching and realistic. Through thick and thin, age and trials, they endure. Despite whatever sadness I felt, that their love conquers all, climbing from young excitement to aged comfort, is the most inspiring of emotions. Again, Bravo. So far I haven't read any story of hers that wasn't a "keeper."
Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 167 books37.8k followers
August 13, 2015
OK, I liked this one even better than the Magpie Lord pair. Is there such a genre as romantic horror? In any case, the pastiches of the late 19th - early 20th C. detective and ghost story genres were just a stitch. A good bit of humor, and some really excellent inventiveness with the magic bits. "Butterflies", the second tale in the collection (which taken together also make a chronological biographical story arc for the characters) was deeply creepy in a niftily understated way.

Recommended for readers who relish turn-of-the-prior-century pulp fiction, who won't choke on the m/m erotica.

Given the excellence of the plotting, writing, and worldbuilding, I found myself wondering how workable the same set of stories would have been with either a just-two-buddies pairing, like canonical Holmes-Watson (though we do sometimes wonder about those two) or a male-female pairing. It wouldn't be at all the same thing (especially the first tale, *snrch*), I think, and it would be interesting to debate why.

Ta, L.
Profile Image for Ms. Smartarse.
604 reviews260 followers
May 15, 2019
Robert Caldwell has set course for the exciting life of a XIXth century journalist, full of days where his making himself a general nuisance would ultimately lead to greatness. Unfortunately for him, that was not to be: one investigative avenue leads him towards lots of brilliant sex, ruin, salvation, and even ever-lasting love... all admidst the horrific backdrop that only the supernatural can provide.

Because Robert is a truly awesome fellow, he has been kind enough to share his entire life experience with a friend. In writing. To be published posthumously. And I do mean *entire* life experience: steamy bits included.

dreamy sigh

I've been so so ambivalent on how to appreciate The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal. See, for all intents and purposes, it is a collection of short (and very short) stories, which put together encompass the life and times of him and his partner Simon, as they alternately hunt ghosts, and engage in some hot and heavy boning sessions.

Being on the shorter side of prose, these stories can be split into several little exciting bits of ghost hunting episodes, each more thrilling than the other. And the fact that every one of them is careful to allot sufficient screen time for both protagonists to engage in some serious steamy action, can only lead to lots of reader satisfaction as far as I'm concerned.


Individual episodes often appeared somewhat superficial when it came to a deeper analysis of the protagonist's relationship, or even that of the monster of the day. Everything seemed to happen so quickly, as if people and supernatural entities alike were on a deadline, with a schedule to follow. Although, it is also true that taken as a whole, the short story collection does end up fleshing out the two main characters' relationship beautifully. There were plenty of joyful moments, as well as several game changing bittersweet ones for the rabid fangirl to contend with.

There was one thing that bothered me abot the story: Robert is writing all this to another man to publish... and gives such explicitly detailed accounts of his sexual encounters? Not that I am complaining, but given the forbidden nature of homosexual relationships in Victorian England, why would Robert expect anyone to be able to publish such stories freely?

Score: 3.55/5 stars

The equivalent of Sherlock Holmes' adventures, had he possessed occult powers, and been *much* closer to Watson than he let on. *wink wink*
Profile Image for Cristina.
Author 28 books95 followers
October 30, 2018
I truly loved The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal on so many levels.

I really enjoyed the way K.J. Charles uses this book as a way to pay homage to popular Victorian fiction, yellow-covered books, sensationalist horror stories and criminal cases by bringing in characters from other novels and mixing them up with her own fictional creations. It reminded me of what Kim Newman does so well in his Anno Dracula and in his other novels in the series. K.J. Charles does it with the same ease and amazing skill.

The expedient of having Robert Caldwell recount his adventures with Simon Feximal in two parallel series of casebooks - one for public consumption and one for the private eyes of his editor - works really well and adds another layer to the literary entanglements at the heart of the book.

Apart from this aspect, The Secret Casebook is a wonderful collection of eerie Victorian ghost stories that, despite their brevity, manage to conjure up with great force the idea of 'a world beneath the world' that can spill out onto everyday reality in the many forms of terror: wailing spirits, restless ghosts, blood and bones, ancient scripts appearing on people's skin come together to create a magnificent series of tales.

Simon Feximal - fierce and uncompromising - and Robert Caldwell - light-hearted and curious - are two amazing characters and their connection grows with the progression of the stories until their bond will no longer be simply emotional but will become physical, and well beyond sexuality.

Another great read by K.J. Charles that I totally recommend.
Profile Image for Adam.
611 reviews313 followers
January 22, 2016
Well, it pains me to say this, but I'm being generous with 3 stars.

Possible spoilers below.

The first half of the book was very good. When I originally read the first two free shorts, The Caldwell Ghost and Butterflies, I liked Robert and Simon well enough, but I didn't really connect to them. So the first half of 'Secret Casebook', where we get a better understanding of what the two feel for each other and how their relationship began, was great. I'm also glad that the author didn't include Remnant: A Caldwell & Feximal/Whyborne & Griffin Mystery in this collection. That whole thing just never sat right with me. The beginning of Simon and Robert's relationship was sweet, though with a nice touch of angst. The book was off to a great start.

The second half is where things started unravelling for me. While we get a very thorough beginning of the relationship, the development is still glossed over. Robert and Simon sort of take a back seat, and we're just told that they now feel more for each other. Granted, this is a collection of stories that skips a few months or years from one to the next, but I think KJ Charles could have done a better job at portraying Robert and Simon together. And that epilogue? That just mad me sad. I don't need butterflies and roses, but I prefer my romance to leave me with a positive feeling.

However, I did enjoy the mysteries. This author is a master at writing historical paranormal. I loved how she incorporated actual myths from across various regions of England. And I was very impressed by how she wrote turn-of-the-century London. I had no idea that the London Underground was already operating in the 1800s. It was very interesting to see through Robert's eyes how London was transforming in to a modern city.

So 3 stars from me, and that's mostly because I really enjoyed the first half, and because the mysteries were satisfyingly creepy. But I don't think I could recommend 'The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal'. For those who haven't read KJ Charles' work before, the Charm of Magpies series and Jackdaw are brilliant examples of this author's writing ability, and I can't recommend them enough!
Profile Image for Charlotte (Romansdegare).
114 reviews73 followers
September 1, 2023
KJ Charles Backlist Read Part 24

I greatly enjoyed returning to this odd little gem in KJ Charles's backlist. I loved it the first time around, and loved it no less the second time, but on this reading I was more able to appreciate what a departure it represents from the rest of Charles's work. Most of the differences spring from the structural conceit of the narrative itself: this casebook is meant to be a supplement to previously-published stories by Robert Caldwell about his ghost-hunting adventures with Simon Feximal. The secret casebook tells not only the ghost stories that could not be published, but it also renders as text the romance that developed between the two men, and which could not be visible in Robert's journalistic reporting.

From a technical standpoint, the casebook allows for an episodic structure, where different adventure/murder/ghost stories are held together only by the continuity of the romance. It's really fascinating to see how Charles - an author known for combining plot and romance - develops these two elements in tandem even when they are operating in totally different rhythms. The conceit of writing a casebook also means (unless there are any surprises waiting for me in the remaining backlist) that this is Charles's only first-person narrative! I am a first-person proselytizer AND a firm believer that any tense can work when done well, and this book acts as proof for both of those things.

The thematic conceit of writing into the gaps of a previously-published manuscript also works marvelously: especially because the original/official narrative that Robert is supplementing doesn't actually - in our world - exist. This book takes what is suppressed and occulted and makes it the ONLY visible text. Which, to me, renders the ending all the more poignant. This conclusion is as HFN as they come, and the reader is explicitly entrusted with the task of deciding how they choose to interpret the silence from Robert that will follow the casebook's publication: is his silence a sign of his death on the battlefield? or a sign that he and Simon are living their lives out together, happy and at peace? It's an act of trust to allow the reader this interpretative work, but after an entire book teaching us to read the truth of a great love where there were once only narrative silences, I know which interpretation I choose.

Favorite line: "He was not - never would be - a sophisticated lover, but sincerity can do things sophistication cannot."


Original review:

Listened to this on audio and the performance was fantastic. I have limited tolerance and attention span for audio, but I was delighted with this one.

I didn't realize quite what an episodic structure this book had, but I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked for me. We really got a sense of Robert and Simon's romantic relationship developing slowly over a long span of time. One thing that continually impresses me about KJ Charles's writing is her ability to balance a romantic storyline with a suspense/mystery/other plots. The balance differs from book to book, but is always (at least in the ones I've read) just right for the story. It demonstrates such a keen sense of what each individual book demands.

Also, MY KINGDOM for more romances that use their paranormal/magical elements in the service of such deeply human angst as the kind this book created at the end. My heart was in my throat.

The only false note, really, was the unpleasant surprise of some fatphobia in Ch 6, used to describe a secondary character.
Profile Image for Ami.
5,865 reviews496 followers
June 19, 2015
3.5 stars

This is a 'more complete tale' of the lives of Robert Caldwell and his companion of 20+ years, the ghost-hunter Simon Feximal. These gentlemen first appeared in the short story, The Caldwell Ghost, followed by Butterflies (the two stories are included here). I have been quite excited to read the full novel of Simon and Robert. I loved Charles's take on mystery and paranormal in the historical time. I loved those shorts but I wanted so much more.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as gripping and engaging as I was expecting. Several times I found myself putting it down, and ended up doing other things (watching TV!) because I got a little bored. I wonder if the problems are because the 'format' of this novel is collection of short stories that comprise into chapters. Each chapter also has its own mystery for Simon and Robert to solve, while at the same time introducing readers to few significant moments of their lives (first time Robert met Simon, their follow-up case, how Robert started his life as Simon's chronicle and companion, etc).

Now, I enjoyed some of the mysteries. K.J. Charles has a penchant of writing horrific and nasty supernatural situations that I wonder if she would ever take a job as a writer for the US TV show "Sleepy Hollow" because she will fit right in. But because there were gaps in between some of these chapters (Simon and Robert were together for 20+ years after all), it also felt clunky to me.

Most of all, I didn't get the emotional connection towards the characters; to Simon especially. I didn't get his personal growth. Robert was easier because he was the sole narrator. Other than the first two stories (which I reviewed separately, and I skipped during my reading this one), the only chapter that stood out was "The Writing on the Wall, because it was the one that felt more personal for the two of them.

The epilogue felt somber, and it didn't exactly lift out my mood after finished reading. It had a good impact, but again, not the one I was expecting. I love K.J. Charles and I love her writing; but in overall, this isn't exactly a winner in my book.
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,180 reviews213 followers
July 5, 2015

Written, as a casebook with several stories, with Robert reminiscing about what happened in the past. I appreciated this because this hindsight gave me an overview and I saw how things developed over time - nothing instant. We can see the building up effect, the constancy, the love shining through rather than the instant magic effect. Life/love over a years and I always enjoy that. We get the stories and the relationship. Even though this style of writing creates a certain distance from what’s happening, the naked need for each other still shines through.

I’m writing this a couple of days after I finished the book and I still find myself sorry that the book finished and that there is no more.

BR with dear friends
Profile Image for Alisa.
1,801 reviews182 followers
May 8, 2021
So good. I can't believe I waited this long to read this. I feel like this one is super under rated. It’s a great plot but also so romantic. A perfect mix of plot, steam & love story.
Profile Image for Leslie.
1,129 reviews232 followers
June 13, 2021
“Need,” he muttered. I could feel his lips against my neck, head resting against mine as he held me. “God damn it, I need you. I can breathe around you, Robert. I need air, and I need you, and in much the same measure. Come home. Stay.”

RTC. Possibly. But maybe not. Because I’m a big flake. 🤷🏻‍♀️😂🙈

For now I’ll just say that I really liked this even though I’m not HUGE on paranormal stuff. That might be why I have yet to finish this author’s Magpie series. I know, I know. Stop attacking me! I’ll get to that last book soon. I have to be in the right mood for magic/paranormal/etc. kind of books.

But I sure did love Simon and Robert. KJ writes the couples I love to read. That is no lie.

No David Tennant gif because I’m on my phone and don’t know how to do that on here because I’m old and because this isn’t an actual review. Yet. But it might be. Someday…the whole flake thing remember?
Profile Image for Elena.
848 reviews92 followers
July 29, 2019
3.5 stars

While well written like everything K.J. Charles writes, the tone of this book was so dry that at times I really struggled to go through it. I’m not used to struggle with a KJC book and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
I’m told that it was a deliberate choice on the author’s part (the change in style, not my struggling), to recreate a specific style of writing commonly used for this kind of stories set in this historical era, and in that I’m sure she succeeded. I’m probably not the right audience for it.
Despite that, I liked the characters and the concept of the story. The additional half star goes to the first chapter and last two, which I felt were a step above the rest of the book.

BR with Moony and Rosa, with special guests Linda and Teal. Thank you for the support when I was crawling through the middle of the book. 😘
Profile Image for Tara♥ {MindforBooks}.
1,421 reviews114 followers
March 15, 2016
“In writing Simon's stories, I have written myself out of my own life.”

I absolutely adored this book. It was not at all what I was expecting but I loved every minute of it.

I first met Simon and Robert in ‘Remnant’ when they joined Jordan L. Hawk’s boys Whyborne and Griffin on their London adventure. The Simon I glimpsed in that story was very different to the Simon that greeted me at the beginning of this story. I found it difficult to connect with him at first and it felt like there wasn’t much of a connection between him and Robert, apart from a searing sexual one that is. As their story progressed it soon became evident that I was very, very wrong.

Simon is not at all demonstrative, but as each tale was told I started to see very clearly that just because he was not outright showing his feelings or communicating them that didn’t mean he wasn’t constantly telling Robert he loved and adored him. He was just doing it in his own subtle/gruff way. The longer they were both together the more apparent it became.

This book spans over 20 years, with each chapter being a separate story, each story is part of letter’s to Roberts’s editor explaining the things that were not mentioned in the ‘yellowbacks’ that Robert wrote about his adventures with Simon Faximal the Ghost Hunter. It was all just so clever and I almost felt like I was being let in on secrets that nobody else got to read about. The stories themselves were so engaging. I learned that K.J. Charles has a strange and creepy affiliation to rats, each to their own I suppose and that butterflies are another creature I should be wary of. And as the years passed, Simon and Roberts relationship grew and it grew into something very beautiful. I saw Simon become more demonstrative and Robert become more brave.

"I am not a brave man, not a fighter. I use words, and when they are powerless, so am I."

As each chapter progressed it became less and less about the monsters they fought together and more and more about the challenges (both physical and emotional) they faced together as a couple. Simon was prepared to do anything to protect Robert and in doing so could push Robert away emotionally, but when Robert pushed back or tried to protect Simon, Simon would pull away. It was a relationship. A partnership where not everything was perfect, where they had to continually work on things, where sex was not always the answer and conversation and compromise were needed. I loved seeing this happen. I loved seeing two men, in a time where their love for each other was deemed illegal, live as partners, friends and lovers. What I did not like, but was unfortunately very much a reality for the time, was watching outside forces use that love as a way to manipulate them both.

"If I stopped our story here, all would be well forever.

I cannot."

This stories ending was incredibly powerful, even now it makes me sad and genuinely heart sore and as Robert says, it would be easy to make all well forever, but that’s not how most stories go. ‘The End’ is one of my favourite endings ever. Like so much of this book it was incredibly clever but it was also poignant and even in the ugliness of what was happening, very beautiful.

"I see no love of England in this harvest of her youth."

The spectre of war is evident at times throughout but as Simon and Robert stand in a cellar with a husband and wife whose children play nearby that particular ghost, for a brief second, became very real.

"Christ, to think of that as I write these words. To know that Henry Fontley would be dead before he reached twenty-five, his last sight the mud and slaughter of Flanders fields, his ale undrunk and turning to vinegar in his grieving parents' cellar."

I’m pretty sure I could go on about this book for days, so many things happened and there is so much I could say about the many different characters. Characters who were intriguing, scary, evil, kind, powerful, insightful and a million other adjectives but I’d be here forever and discovering them is really the best part, well the best part aside from the secret love of two extraordinary men.

"I had to let someone know who I was: not merely Simon's assistant, his chronicler, his poor scribbling friend, but the great love of a great life. That I may have lived in his shadow, but I was always by his side. That I was as needful to him as air."

Profile Image for Apeiron.
57 reviews38 followers
July 8, 2015
There are lots of good things to be said about The Secret Casebook. They've already been said before, so I'll be quick.

This is a very competent, well-researched book about two ghost hunters in the 1890s. And I can see why some people love it. Simon and Robert are fleshed-out, interesting and lovable characters. As far as I'm concerned, The Secret Casebook would be a 4-star read if their story made up 80% instead of, roughly, 25%.

But alas, it is a Casebook.

If my house was on fire and this was the only book I could save, I'd rip out the pages with ghost stories and leave them behind like dead weight. (No, it wouldn't save me a lot of weight but it-- oh shut up, it's a metaphor.) So, the real heart of this book are Simon and Robert and I feel like their airtime was stolen by the distraction that were the ghost missions.

(Which, on second third fourth thought, would be kind of symbolic of the whole moral of their story.)

Here's my unsolicited opinion on what is wrong with those stories:

I'll have "Equilateral Rectangles" for $0.02, Alex

I don't think good ghost stories are about ghosts at all. I believe they should meet one of three goals:

- tell an important truth about people;

- help the protagonist discover an important truth;

- for lack of the above, at least entertain me or impress me. If a writer can subvert a writing tradition, or give me nightmares by making me feel like there's a monster under my bed, or write up a maze of red herrings, twists and turns and illusions, it is their God's given right to show off.
But most of The Secret Casebook didn't tick any of those checkboxes for me. The ghost stories? Scooby-Doo stuff for fans of British folklore. Evil villains do evil stuff and Simon has to clean up the mess. 

Short stories aren't necessarily simpler than novels. If you're on a deadline, I think it's easier to write one novel than eight shorts. It takes a lot of time and no little inspiration to come up with an original conceit for a story. But stories in Secret Casebook lack original conceit.


I don't think these mystery stories are good stories.

Sofia suggested that this book could work better as one long case, like the Magpie series. I agree.

K J Charles is a great writer, she excels at building intimate character portraits. Several times, she managed to punch me right in the feels with one sentence. Like:

The only interesting case in the Casebook is the last one and that's because it told us an important truth about Simon and Robert. Character growth, conflict, hard choices, defeat. This is what KJC is great at.

This was sponsored by BR with Sofia, Maya and Ingela. Thanks guys, I wouldn't have gotten to the last (best) story without you :D
Profile Image for Kathleen in Oslo.
353 reviews74 followers
September 1, 2023
For two decades, we have been everything to one another, yet to the world I am no more than the famed ghost-hunter's friend and chronicler, witness to his deeds. In writing Simon's stories, I have written myself out of my own life. I wonder, Henry, if you can imagine what that is like.

I have decided. I shall write the Secret Casebook, record the truth of our lives -- not Simon Feximal's life alone, but Robert and Simon, together. It is for you to decide what to do with the tale when it is told.

I should preface this review by saying that KJ Charles is one of my all-time favorite authors. I suspect I have some heretofore-unknown-to-medical-science condition where it is impossible for me to not love her writing. Series, standalones, novellas, blogposts, tweets, I'm sure I'd find even her shopping list compelling. Take this as my disclaimer.

Because -- as expected -- I adored this. But it also genuinely surprised me. Part of my surprise stemmed from the episodic structure: The Secret Casebook is a series of stories that, it becomes clear, connect in multifarious ways both in terms of secondary characters, thematically, and most importantly, in the progression of Simon and Robert's love story. Part of it stemmed from the use of first person POV, which KJC almost never uses but that is consistent with how the Sherlock Holmes stories are told from Dr. Watson's point of view: The Secret Casebook is, as KJC writes in the acknowledgments, an homage to the Victorian occult tradition including the adventures of Holmes and Watson. And what a voice Robert Caldwell, the Watson to Simon Feximal's Holmes, has! Chatty, incisive, modest, direct, honest, smart, somewhat arch, and (though he would undoubtedly deny it) brave. It was altogether a delight being in his head.

But the thing that surprised me most about The Secret Casebook was how moving it was. It was an emotional sucker-punch, and I mean that in the best way. The quote above, in a letter from Caldwell to his longtime editor, says it all: the stories of the occult (and the misuse of the occult to achieve human ends) is the hook, but what is really being told is the story of two lives united -- not just in work, as the world at large believes, but in love, intimacy, and companionship. In writing himself back into the story as an equal protagonist both professionally and privately, Caldwell reminds us of all the other stories that are never told, or are (must be) told wrongly, or are primarily told through omission.

Thus, for all their occult pulpiness, what struck me most about these stories is the thread of melancholy and longing running through them. Caldwell does not seek fame or glory for his own sake; one does not get the impression that he particularly prizes his own contribution to their joint work, nor that he begrudges Feximal his notoriety as ghost-hunter. No, the longing he feels is for their lives, his life, to be acknowledged in its fullness. Not lauded or celebrated; but not hidden or secret either. The poignancy of the desire lies in its modesty.

Simon kissed me this evening, a snatched kiss in a canvas tent, and said, quite calmly, 'I love you.'

'Do you know,' I told him, 'it has been twenty-three years and you have never said that before?'

'Have I not?' he asked, slightly surprised. 'But you knew.'

'Of course I knew. I have always known.'

'Well, then,' he said, with mild exasperation, and put his arm round my shoulders.

If Fate grants us another twenty-three years, preferably in comfortable retirement, that would be very welcome. But if it ends tonight, as long as we go together, I shall feel entirely satisfied with my lot.

Inextricably connected to the melancholy and poignancy of The Secret Casebook is how it reckons with costs and sacrifices. While the explanation behind how Feximal and his (non-birth) sister, Miss Kay, gained their occult abilities is gruesome, it is compelling to read a story about magic and the occult that actually confronts what it entails, physically and emotionally, for its practitioners and their intimates. This is most movingly depicted in "The Writing on the Wall", a story of devotion, sacrifice, and the imperative -- so often impossible -- to take the suffering of our loved ones upon ourselves; a story so simply and beautifully told that I, very unusually for me, had to put it aside for a day to give myself some breathing room.

But again, knowing Caldwell's intent -- to write himself back into his life -- we the reader know that costs and sacrifices are not just what is written on the skin or the memories that keep us up at night. They are also the things we must repress, the ways we do not fit, the secrets we keep because we fear the consequences or because we don't have a choice.

And there is not a clear resolution here. At least, not in the conventional sense. We are left with the assumption, the hope, that Simon and Robert survive the horrors of the first World War and quietly retire to a peaceful old age together, finally free from the manipulation and machinations of both spirits and political masters. And Robert does finally tell their story, taking his rightful place alongside Simon as partner, lover, and companion. But he writes it mostly for himself, knowing that it may never be shared. I guess, sometimes, that's enough.

But I had to tell the story, Henry. I had to let someone know who I was: not merely Simon's assistant, his chronicler, his poor scribbling friend, but the great love of a great life. That I may have lived in his shadow, but I was always by his side. That I was as needful to him as air.
Profile Image for Maya.
282 reviews69 followers
July 27, 2015

For me, KJC’s books are the perfect balance of romance and mystery. And I really like that there’s always an amazing atmosphere in them - I get easily transported to the time and place of the story.

But what I love the most in her books is the characters and their intimacy. I’d say KJC is one of my favourite authors when it comes to writing intimacy. Whether it comes from exchanged words or gestures or things the characters share - it’s always beautiful and heartfelt.

All the above are valid for The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal.

The second half of the book was more emotionally engaging than the first but, overall, an excellent read and definitely a book I’d return to because I already miss the characters.

BR with Ingela, Sofia, and Apeiron - June 29, 2015.

Profile Image for Mir.
4,869 reviews5,034 followers
October 7, 2018
Fun. The first few stories are too short to be satisfactory from a mystery perspective, but there is a good build and the book really hits its stride about halfway through.

Having finished, I am still puzzled as to why my library suggested Anita Brookner as a read-alike author.
Profile Image for Ulysses Dietz.
Author 13 books655 followers
July 6, 2015

Ah, K.J. Charles, who gave us the Magpie Lord. I should have known I was going to like this one.

Robert Caldwell has a ghost. He tries to ignore it, but the bleeding walls finally force him to call in help. Help comes in the form of Simon Feximal, noted occultist, and Robert finds himself inexorably drawn to the steel-haired muscular man who smiles so rarely.

This fascinating book, presented as the posthumous journal of a well-known popular writer in the Watson/Holmes mold, begins with what appear to be two stand-alone short stories—cases. Then the storylines quickly become intertwined, much as do the lives of Robert and Simon.

Once again we have inked skin, but in this case it is not tattoos, but magic words, that swirl across the surface of Simon Feximal’s body. At first we simply follow the cases as Robert narrates them; but gradually we are drawn into the background of Simon’s history, and learn the dark truth that made him the man he is. Robert’s journalistic eye becomes a useful tool, slowly revealing itself to be an occult gift that makes him a necessity in Simon’s life.

Charles seems to have a knack for presenting a plausible image of queer life in Victorian London, and by offering us characters who have to deal with the dangers of a hostile social world (once again, Oscar Wilde is mentioned in passing, to remind us) she makes them real. The contrasting notion that ghosts and the occult are accepted as normal parts of modern life that simply have to be dealt with by professionals throws Simon and Robert’s relationship into higher relief. Charles also introduces historical figures who were celebrated in the world of the occult in the 1890s, thus reminding us that in her modern fiction there is historical truth in the human fascination with the world below.

What we also get in this book is a very vivid sense of the human need for power; not just a greed for wealth, but the deep desire to control and manipulate others to your own ends. The Magpie novels are more overtly magical—as are Jordan Hawk’s Whyborne and Griffin books, which even take on a science-ficton tone as they progress. Simon Feximal’s world is full of fearsome things, but they are all—mostly—human things. The difference is subtle, but compelling.
Profile Image for Erika .
415 reviews130 followers
June 22, 2015
3.75 stars

I don't know if it's because I'm PMS-ing, but that ending got me right in the FEELS, and made me a little teary eyed.

I really enjoyed reading about the stalwart Simon and his dear friend and irrepressible companion, Robert. They made me smile fondly, laugh sometimes, fear for them, and in the end I was left hoping that

One could sometimes tell that these were short stories that were sewn together into one big book, but it still read like a book and not some cobbled together mish mosh. This book actually put me in mind of a fantasy novel with some m/m elements, instead of the other way around. Fantasy will always be my first and true love, so I have no problems with that.

As usual, kudos to the author for continuing to write such interesting characters that fairly leap off the page and leave you thinking they're so real, you feel as if you might walk by them on the street one day.
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