Review: Pressure Head by JL Merrow – Talky villains never win

Pressure Head (The Plumber's Mate #1)Pressure Head by J.L. Merrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not surprising I’m late to the party in reading this series by JL Merrow but I’m here now! I liked this opener and found it enjoyable to read with entertaining characters and a decent whodunit. My only issues were that I never got a good feel for the character of Phil and the villain confesses in a nonsensical scene at the end. Neither issue bothered me enough to dislike the book and I think most readers won’t be bothered either. Merrow is a good writer with subtle humor and good pacing making her stories a joy to read with distinct British flair. Easy to recommend.

Tom Paretski is a plumber with a knack for finding hidden things. His “gift” can be useful or it can be a curse. It’s helpful in finding blocked pipes or leaks but a curse when it comes to helping police find dead bodies. He’s called in to find the body of a missing girl and ends up delving deeper into the investigation than ever before. The family has hired a private detective, Phil Morrison, who is Tom’s high school bully and responsible for a horrible accident Tom had as a teen. Despite Tom and Phil’s past they work together to find the real culprit of poor Melanie’s murder. In a town with a seemingly endless supply of suspects, they have their work cut out for them.

The murder mystery is really well crafted. There are several suspects, although I guessed the culprit as soon as they came on the page, but it was fun to see how the story crafted the various details together. Tom and Phil as a duo make sense as they go about trying to reveal the truth. The somewhat weak connection to an old high school classmate is enough of a reason, albeit shaky, to get the two men to work together. From there it’s fun to watch the men circle, disagree, fight, but still continue to be around each other. They also go about investigating in an enjoyable and low key fashion. It doesn’t feel hasty or especially urgent as Tom still has to actually work his day job. It made the mystery the main plot but allowed enough room for the characters, and romance, to grow.

I like the romance and chemistry between Tom and Phil. Tom is the first person narrator so we get to see his reactions and intentions very clearly. I was totally on his side regarding his past with Phil, so much so I didn’t quite see how the story would make a Phil a viable romantic partner. However I do have to give Merrow credit because I was actually even rooting for them by the end. I do think Phil is much less well developed. Small details about his past are thrown out but never really followed up on, such as his dead husband or his closeted feelings in high school. I would have liked Phil to take more responsibility for Tom’s accident and verbally acknowledge his own guilt rather than deflect and defend his actions.

The only other issue I had was the near final scene when they confront the villain and he typically confesses everything. I had a tough time understanding the logic Tom used for his actions and getting involved in that scene when it seemed out of character and unnecessary but then of course the bad guy tells everything. I hate this contrivance, even as it’s completely common in almost every single murder mystery. The author is talented and clever enough to have come up with an alternate method to resolve all the whodunit.

Other than those two, somewhat minor, issues I think Pressure Head is an enjoyable and entertaining read. It has some moments of levity mixed in with a healthy dose of romance and hope for the future. I’m invested in this couple and I want to see where they go. I loved all the nuance and detail the author included from the geographical setting down to the two cats’ behavior. I think most will quite like this offering and even though I probably wouldn’t re-read it, I can easily recommend it.

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