Relief Valve by JL Merrow

Relief Valve by JL Merrow
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (280 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

If you dig up the past, be prepared to get dirty.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing since plumber Tom Paretski and P.I. Phil Morrison became connected at the heart, if not always at Tom’s dodgy hip. Neither of their families has been shy about voicing their disapproval, which hasn’t helped Tom’s uneasy relationship with his prickly older sister, Cherry.
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But when Cherry is poisoned at her own engagement party, the horror of her near death has Tom’s head spinning with possible culprits. Is it her fiance Gregory, a cathedral canon with an unfortunate manner and an alarming taste for taxidermy? Someone from her old writers’ circle, which she left after a row? Or could the attack be connected to her work as a barrister?

Phil is just as desperate to solve the case before someone ends up dead-and he fears it could be Tom. At least one of their suspects has a dark secret to hide, which makes Tom’s sixth sense for finding things like a target painted on his back…

Meeting your partner’s family is never easy, especially when their sister is poisoned. Tom and Phil have been dating for several months when Tom’s sister, Cherry, calls with a problem. An old neighbor that Tom stayed friendly with through the years has died and left Tom a behest. While brother and sister are renewing their acquaintance Cherry invites Tom and Phil to her engagement party, also to get to know Phil better. Unfortunately at the party Cherry is poisoned and Tom hires Phil to look into the mystery. With no shortage of suspects from the entire county to Cherry’s pastor fiancé, Tom isn’t sure what’s going on but he’s determined to figure out who’s trying to off his sister. She may be annoying but only he gets to kill her.

Relief Valve is book two in the Plumber’s Mater series by JL Merrow. It’s easily strong enough to stand on it’s own but there are a few details and backstory that make more sense when read in conjunction with the first book. So I’d recommend this mostly for readers already familiar with the series. Picking up a few months where the last book left off finds Tom and Phil in a mostly easy relationship though they’re navigating some sticky waters. Tom isn’t sure how to tell Phil he loves him or even if he should say it and there’s the matter of giving Phil a key, which is confusing all on its own. When Tom’s sister Cherry is poisoned at her engagement party, this gives both men focus and a mystery to solve together. The whodunit is decent and helps carry the book forward, although the final revelation ties in with the subplot of Tom’s behest from the neighbor. Here is where the book stumbles some. This subplot feels clunky and awkward. There’s a definite purpose revealed at the end but I’m sure the author could have found a better way to include that information.

That’s a minor complaint, though, in an otherwise entertaining story. Tom and Phil never seem to tire of innuendos and inside jokes. Their relationship feels very typical guy in the awkward way they can’t seem to communicate their feelings, mostly Tom, and the humorous mumbled assurances they offer each other. The vast cast of characters and possible culprits helps give the book its character and life with no shortage of eccentricities. I didn’t like this book as well as the first book, possibly because the mystery is interesting but not gripping. There’s no life and death question even though Cherry was unfortunately poisoned, it didn’t feel that dramatic. Partly because Tom kept thinking she was just drunk or pregnant, which took the severity from the scene and made me question Tom’s intelligence.

Once again Merrow writes elegantly in what feels quintessential British prose. It’s refreshing and enjoyable entertainment that is always easy to recommend. This series is no different. I’d say start at the first book but definitely continue with Relief Valve. Humor and attempted murder over takeaway and heavy drinking, what more could a reader want?

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