The Master of Seacliff
Max Pierce
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Buy *The Master of Seacliff* by Max Pierce online

The Master of Seacliff
Max Pierce
Harrington Park Press
201 pages
December 2006
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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It is 1899, and the world is on the crest of a new century as young Andrew Wyndham wonders what direction his life would have taken had he never discovered Seacliff. When a friend offers him a position tutoring the son of wealthy industrialist Duncan Stewart, Andrew accepts, certain that the work will provide an excellent avenue to pay for his passage to France to study art.

Andrew also learns of rumors that Duncan Stewart may have murdered his father to get control of his business. Although Duncan was always considered a prime suspect, it was ultimately concluded that Gordon Stewart's assistant, a man named Albert Brown, killed Gordon and then himself.

Appalled at the ensuring societal judgment, Duncan now lives a solitary life at Seacliff Manor together with his eight-year-old son, Tim, and a smattering of house staff. Never marrying, Duncan is also considered to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the East, although at one time he was betrothed but headed off to Europe against his father's wishes.

Ignoring the scandal, Andrew pledges to befriend this kindred spirit whose own success and generosity will hopefully allow him to realize his dream. But Andrew cannot ignore the other rumor circulating: apparently Duncan had been playing host to acclaimed pianist Stephen Charles, who eight months ago abruptly left without saying farewell and hasn't been heard from since.

When Andrew arrives at isolated Seacliff Manor, he finds a house surrounded by dense fog, the air always thick and moist. He's also surprised at Duncan Stewart, who comes across as a virile and commanding man who dresses and wears his hair as he wishes. He's unlike anyone Andrew has ever seen, a sort of "hairy pirate" and the total embodiment of masculinity.

But Duncan has another side; he's often dark and brooding, and also distant and broken. Tim tells Andrew that the last governess thought Seacliff was haunted and said they were all crazy. Indeed, the once respectable Manor has fallen into desperate times; the affluent patriarch Gordon Stewart and his wife, Janina, are dead, with Gordon's demise still shrouded in rumor.

The kindly housekeeper Mrs. Johnson is left to suffer, lamenting the loss of her poor daughter, Gwendolyn, who mysteriously committed suicide by throwing herself off a cliff. Then there's Fellowes, the menacing valet who is determined to protect the legacy of the Stewart family at whatever cost.

To further complicate matters, Duncan has been blessed with the arrival of Elena and Leo Van Horne, a rival family who own a neighboring estate. While the delightful Elena secretly flirts with Duncan, tall, strong Leo is distant and distrustful, perhaps jealous of the easy intimacy that was reported to have developed between Stephen and his benefactor.

As fresh-faced Andrew settles into his new home at Seacliff, he must also do battle with the increasing animosity of those around him, along with his increasing attraction to Duncan. "The years of developing yearnings I had been fearful to discuss, knowing on instinct such a revelation would result on misunderstanding or outrage."

When Andrew realizes that Michael's sudden disappearance is somehow tied to Duncan's love for him, he becomes even more determined to unravel the dark mysteries of Seacliff. To be sure, someone out there is determined to discredit Duncan. Little does Andrew know, however, that the prospect could hold such deceit and temptation, even murder.

Although Max Pierce's novel tends to the cliché-ridden in places, The Master of Seacliff is still an absorbing read, an intriguing blend of passion and sexuality, notwithstanding a noticeably gay slant. There's much to entertain here, with the prerequisite stormy evenings, the shady villains, the mysteriously cloaked figures and a strangely creepy cast of characters who are constantly stumbling through the hallowed Halls of Seacliff leaving murder and death in their wake.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2007

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