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Relief Valve - Fun sequel to Pressure Head

Relief Valve - J.L. Merrow

4.5 stars - I thought this was a pretty fabulous sequel to Merrow’s 2012 mystery romance Pressure Head. Tom’s bright narration is back in full-force, and it’s hard not to be charmed by him and the colorful denizens that dot Merrow’s cozy English countryside world.

Book 2 finds plumber Tom (who has an innate ability to find hidden things, including buried bodies) getting used to his new relationship to former high school bully/now all-grown-up boyfriend Phil and getting even more used to his family reentering his life as his sister Cherry tells him that a) he has a surprise bequest from a neighbor who had passed away and b) she’s getting married and wants Tom to meet her new beau, the literally big-handed clergy member Greg.

The engagement party is interrupted by an attempted murder and Tom and Phil (who’s a private detective, as well as protective boyfriend) are on the case to find out who’s tried to poison Cherry.

The case gives Merrow a good excuse to introduce a village full of red herrings for Tom to parse through, some funny, some melancholic, and along the way, he discovers some things he hadn’t been searching for, as well as finding out the greater depths of his and Phil’s developing relationship.

Tom is one of my favorite Merrow heroes, second only to Al in Muscling Through. She’s created a real winner here with his cheeky, flirty charm and his upbeat presence as he works his plumbing jobs, seeks out answers for the case, and quietly juggles his self-conscious feelings for Phil and his fear that he won’t match up to Phil’s deceased husband.

The side characters are also great, whether it’s flamboyant BFF Gary and his former porn star beau, closed-up Cherry who slowly thaws as she and Tom grow closer again, or Tom’s police contact Dave. Phil is a stalwart presence in Tom’s life. Neither he nor Tom are great at communicating or navigating the ups & downs, but slowly, they inch forward as they see what the other wants, and you can tell that even when they’re clumsy, they care about each other. (And I love the times when Tom decides to not say what he’s feeling, but then blurts it out automatically, like a reflex.)

The mystery is fun and twisty, and I didn’t guess what was going to happen, which is always a plus. I also loved how much Merrow painted in the villages and towns where everyone lived. You get a real feel for the English countryside setting.

I think the only thing I wasn't a fan of was some of Tom's mental tangents, but overall, I liked his narration so much, that I was able to glide through most of those.

It's also pretty low heat, with just a few intimate scenes, and others that are fade to black. I was fine with this because I loved the story, but for those looking for a five-pepper heat mystery, this isn't the one.

If I could have a wish, it would be to see this on TV. It would be a GREAT mystery series. But until the BBC picks it up, I am 150% satisfied with the funny and charming world that Merrow has built in these books, and ECSTATIC that at the end of book 2, she announces that the adventures will continue for our plumber in book 3, Heat Trap.

Review first posted this week over at Boys in our Books.