Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.
Today I’m continuing my Enemies-to-Lovers theme with a contemporary M/M mystery romance from JL Merrow. PRESSURE HEAD is the first in the Plumber’s Mate series of truly fun mysteries that add a little romance. The main character is a plumber with a knack for finding water and lost/hidden items–including dead or missing people. It’s set in England, and has the absolute vernacular. The book came out several years back, but is being re-released by a new publisher.
About the book:
Some things are better left hidden.
Tom Paretski’s not just a plumber with a dodgy hip courtesy of a schoolboy accident. He also has a sixth sense for finding hidden things. Called in by the police to help locate a body near Brock’s Hollow, he’s staggered to encounter Phil Morrison, his old school crush—and the closeted bully whose actions contributed to Tom’s accident.
Phil’s all grown up now, and Tom’s unwilling attraction to him is back with a vengeance. Phil’s now openly gay—and what’s more, he’s interested in Tom’s personal charms as well as his psychic talents. As a private investigator called in by the dead woman’s parents, Phil is sceptical about Tom’s unusual gift, but nevertheless quick to spot its potential to aid him in his work.
The further they go with the investigation, the less they can ignore their shared past, and the more the pressure and the heat build between them. But Tom isn’t certain he wants to know the secrets he’s helping to uncover, while there’s a murderer on the loose who won’t hesitate to kill again—and this uneasy couple is moving right into his sights.
Tom Paretski is a plumber with an unfortunate name–his step-granddad was Polish, and customers continually marvel at Tom’s fluent English–and a family that’s still rather posh. Tom might have gone to uni if his schoolmate bullies hadn’t terrorized him into running into the street and getting hit by a lorry–resulting in eight months of surgeries and therapy and no time to study for his A-level exams. A decade later Tom’s philosophical about it; he’s had an inexplicable gift for finding water, which helps him on the leak trail. It’s also good for lost or hidden things. The more guilt associated with the secret hiding place, the stronger Tom can sense it, like a beacon of shame. And, his pal on the detective unit sometimes calls Tom in, on the down-low, if there’s a big search on.
It’s how he reunites with his chief childhood bully, Phil Morrison. Phil was a London cop, but now he’s returned to their hometown to set up a business in personal investigations. Phil doesn’t believe that Tom just stumbled across the body of the woman he’d been hired to find; he assumes Tom must have had inside information, info that could help his clients–the parents of the deceased girl and her devastated boyfriend–find peace and justice.
Tom isn’t best pleased to find Phil on his tail, or that he still, unwillingly, find Phil to be handsome. He wants to hate Phil for the part he played in Tom’s nightmarish bullying, and eventual injury. Phil though it was just boys-being-boys, but he’s sensitive enough to recognize that Tom’s understanding of the situation back then was very different from his own. And Phil admits a very serious level of respect for Tom, who was out and not-so-proud back at school. Phil suffered a lot of insecurity in those days, having been closeted himself, and a welfare family. Tom seemed smug, and posh, then, Phil thought, but only because Tom was afraid to get close to anyone and be pounded. Interesting that both men had a secret hankering back in school.
Now, however, Tom’s proved his valuable skill to Phil, and Phil’s taken to bringing him along in his investigations of the murder. It gets really dicey when they learn the victim had some issue within the church–where she volunteered in the budgets office. Lots of suspicions are being made about her boyfriend, a recovering addict, too. And it seems the only person with sufficient motive may have been the vicar, who’s hiding with his rather sordid past of wild sex parties.
The combinations of characters really bring this story to life. Tom’s casual English and affable nature win over some of the most recalcitrant of witnesses. I loved the banter, and Tom’s sharp wit. The enemies-to-comrades-to-lovers angle worked out well, with appropriate delay and catch-up. And outrage, on the part of Tom’s pals and family; they all have a poor opinion of Phil from that school days. It’s interesting how fastidious Phil is about his clothing, car and flat–that he makes a great effort to look the part of the successful man, to distance himself from his impoverished childhood. Meanwhile, Tom, who was raised in a middle class family, has a workingman’s profession. So there’s some interesting class themes explored, as well as redemption for both Tom and Phil, for their bad childhood behavior. Their romance is sweet and catches Tom by surprise, in a good way. Expect a little bit of sexytimes, when they finally get on the same page, I’ve read two other books in this series and highly recommend them all.
About the Author:
JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea. She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again. Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.
She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance and and mysteries, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy and her novella Muscling Through and novel Relief Valve were both EPIC Awards Finalists.
JL Merrow is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, International Thriller Writers, Verulam Writers’ Circle and the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.
Thanks for popping in and be sure to check out the reviews for my fellow Coffeehouse presenters this month: