My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The third book in the Plumber’s series was short and sweet, though unsatisfying for me. The mystery was bland and unappealing honestly and there were some serious problems with Tom’s character (in my opinion) but the romance finally flourished after some unnecessary angst and the story ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. The series could either way, I could see it continuing or ending here. Given the ending, I’d be surprised if the author didn’t give at least a short story addressing the last issue but who knows. I think I’m ok to be done with the series as Tom has slowly lost his charm and appeal for me as a reader over the course of the series. He’s interesting and offers a good mess of neuroses and intelligence but his reaction to Phil in this book made me want Phil to run far, far away. I’m curious what other readers will think of this particular offering.
Here Phil, and by extension Tom, get asked by their local bar owner, Harry, if they’ll investigate an employee’s ex-boyfriend. Marianne is a blond waif being threatened by her smarmy and legal twisting ex Grant Cary, who doesn’t take no for an answer. Harry is worried that she can’t do anything to help Marianne since Grant managed to box her into a corner with some neat threats. While worrying about Marianne, Harry, and Grant, Tom also has to deal with the revelation of his father and what to do about the information. In the course of investigating Grant Cary, Tom learns more about Phil’s past that puts their relationship in jeopardy.
It’s hard to talk about this particular book without spoilers but I’ll do my best. The mystery here is around Grant Cary and his seedy actions. He manages to scare and threaten everyone without making obvious threats; it’s actually incredibly clever and sly. He’s a villain to be sure but one that’s well developed and well written. He’s a great foil for the main cast and his scenes ooze with discomfort and great writing. Grant really makes the “mystery” worthwhile because otherwise it falls pretty flat. There’s honestly not very much to it until a body hits the floor and then the action and intensity ramps up considerably. I found the resolution to this subplot anti-climatic at best, despite the death-defying scene, as the ultimate villain came out of left field and there simply wasn’t much connection between them and the story, let alone the characters. Thus I was left pretty unsatisfied and uninterested in this aspect of the book. I honestly could have done without it entirely.
However this “investigation” was what led to the real tension between Tom and Phil. Tom learns some information about Phil/his past and of course leaps to some horrible conclusions. This was where the book kind of lost me as a fan. I didn’t understand Tom’s thought process and why his mind went where it did. Furthermore his confrontation with Phil was so hypocritical that I kept thinking Phil should walk away and never return. Then the resolution with Phil practically begging Tom not to leave him made me scream. Tom should have been the one apologizing, repeatedly, not the other way around. Especially with the story being in Tom’s head I thought Phil was the wronged party and I didn’t really think Tom appreciated and respected Phil. I was surprised by these scenes to be honest and it doesn’t bode well for their relationship. I honestly don’t see these two together long term sadly.
What worked for the story was once again Merrow’s clean writing and quirky British sense of humor. The atmosphere was entertaining and engaging and the various different characters returning made a nice continuity, sort of like visiting old friends. The series started out on a high note but has been slowly falling since then, partly because the mysteries haven’t been as interesting as the first one. Also Tom and Phil’s relationship is definitely ripe with possibility for tension and misunderstanding but the areas the stories have chosen to probe haven’t really worked for me as a reader unfortunately. I think I’d continue with the series if there was a fourth book but I’m cautious and would want a mystery that is completely outside the small town cast. I think fans of the series will like this one but I’m curious how much. You tell me!