My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Interesting sequel that sets up a good series but the mystery is complicated and not well developed. The characters carry the story with their charm so if their near constant manly bickering isn’t your thing, the book may not be as engaging. It’s well written with Merrow’s classic British taste and slang but it lacks a good deal of the humor I usually associate with JLM. I found the couple lackluster and more like friends with benefits than a madly in love relationship. What got me through the story the most were Merrow’s writing, British background, and narrator. I liked Tom but I just didn’t feel his romance with Phil. I’m still going to continue with the series and maybe Relief Valve is just the typical middle book slump.
It’s been a few months since Phil and Tom started seeing each other and now Tom’s family come barreling into the picture. An old acquaintance has left Tom some kind of inheritance and that puts him in touch with his semi-estranged sister Cherry, who happens to be a lawyer. Upon reconnecting Cherry invites Tom and Phil to her engagement party and they witness Cherry being poisoned. The hunt is then on to find out who poisoned Cherry, if she was even the intended victim and why. Once again a large cast of possible suspects is tossed about and Tom does the lion share of investigating between plumbing jobs.
This time the mystery felt convoluted and weak. There’s kind of a connection between this inheritance from an old acquaintance that Tom had known as a child and the mystery of Cherry’s poisoning but not really. It’s just another thread thrown into the story to develop Tom’s background and it’s uninteresting and overly complicated. It relies on Tom’s psychic talent of finding things but I could feel my attention waning as soon as the subject turned to that plot point. In fact I even fell asleep during a revealing moment of the book that centered on that concept. I just couldn’t connect or engage with the story for the most part. The mystery of who poisons Cherry is interesting enough but with so many suspects I just checked out and didn’t really care. The reasoning felt insubstantial and made up; not that it couldn’t have happened, just that it seemed silly when finally revealed.
Likewise I struggled with the romance between Tom and Phil. For the most part I found Tom a charming first person narrator. He usually carried my attention and his observations and daily life tasks worked to keep me engaged. Unfortunately he has this very manly relationship with Phil filled with nearly constant innuendo quips and light bickering. Once in a while this would have added humor and a lighthearted touch to the story, but since it seemed to happen during every single dialogue exchange I soon grew tired of it. I wanted them to just have a real conversation without the back and forth smart-ass name calling and one-upmanship. I fatigued on the humor as it just felt like the story was trying too hard. Also the couple just seemed like friends that occasionally slept together rather than a devoted, deeply in love couple. It’s only been a few months so I put it down to that but when they exchange awkward “I love yous” I didn’t believe that scene for a second.
On the upside I liked the author’s writing and sense of place. There’s no end to the details offered about the setting and secondary characters. They’re all unique and thankfully didn’t blend together despite the overwhelming number of them. Tom is a charming main character but no one seems to respect him very much. Most people dismissed him and his ideas easily and even Phil only gives him a passing nod sometimes. I found myself frustrated on his behalf and wanting better treatment for him. Unfortunately all together I didn’t really enjoy this book in the series nearly as much as the first book but I liked it ok. It has a lot to recommend it and I have no doubt other readers may enjoy it more.