A guest review by Jenre
Summary review: A marvellous mystery story with a very engaging narrator.
Some secrets are better left hidden.
To most of the world, Tom Paretski is just a plumber with a cheeky attitude and a dodgy hip, souvenir of a schoolboy accident. The local police keep his number on file for a different reason—his sixth sense for finding hidden things.
When he’s called in to help locate the body of a missing woman up on Nomansland Common, he unexpectedly encounters someone who resurrects a host of complicated emotions. Phil Morrison, Tom’s old school crush, now a private investigator working the same case. And the former bully partly responsible for Tom’s injury.
The shocks keep coming. Phil is now openly gay, and shows unmistakable signs of interest. Tom’s attraction to the big, blond investigator hasn’t changed—in fact, he’s even more desirable all grown up. But is Phil’s interest genuine, or does he only want to use Tom’s talent?
As the pile of complicated evidence surrounding the woman’s murder grows higher, so does the heat between Tom and Phil. But opening himself to this degree exposes Tom’s heart in a way he’s not sure he’s ready for…while the murderer’s trigger finger is getting increasingly twitchy.
I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of J.L. Merrow’s books. She has this ability to blend humour with drama, great characters and a vivid setting to great effect. Pressure Head is a perfect example of this and shows that this author is at the top of her game with this writing lark.
At first glance this story seems like a typical mystery. There’s a dead girl, several shady suspects and the pairing of a dour PI and a plucky plumber, who have a less than happy past with each other, to solve the mystery. However, there’s a twist in the plotting. Tom, the first person narrator and aforementioned plumber, has a gift. He can find things which have been hidden or lost, but only if there’s a strong emotion attached to the object or person. This means that he’s called upon on a semi-regular basis by the St Albans constabulary. As the book begins, Tom is asked to search for a missing woman and finds her dead body in a clump of bushes. Hanging around the police search team is Phil, a PI hired by the dead woman’s family to investigate her disappearance, who also bullied Tom at school. Tom is surprised and very bitter that his school life was ruined by a homophobic bully who turned out to be gay, and even more surprised when Phil wants him to help find the killer.
One of things I most liked about the book was the character of Tom. He reminded me very much of a little dog, like a Terrier or a Jack Russell in that he’s totally lovable but can have a nasty bite when provoked. He talks all the time and finds it difficult to cope with silence. The dour, careful Phil drives him up the wall with his silences and the way he thinks through what he wants to say before he responds to Tom. This leads to a lot of sniping and bickering between the pair. Tom is also rather contradictory about the things that have happened to him in the past. He claims it’s all done with, but its obvious that his resentment still simmers and occasionally he will lash out at Phil. This seemed realistic to me, as Tom battles with his attraction to Phil verses his feelings about Phil’s past actions. The relationship between Tom and Phil is very antagonistic from the start. There’s a lot of hurt in the past and I liked that this wasn’t swept aside quickly and that both men work hard for their HEA. The theme of past bullying is handled in a sympathetic way, and I was pleased with Phil’s honesty about his feelings at the time, even if I couldn’t quite condone his actions.
Tom is also one of these outwardly cheerful guys who makes friends easily – something which annoys the less than approachable Phil no end. Tom’s easy and friendly manner with women in particular, helps during the investigation as people open up and tell him things they would never tell Phil. As well as this, he’s also a genuinely nice guy who cares about people. There were several scenes where he made the extra effort to help people and it was times like this when I really liked the guy. He’s also got a wicked sense of humour which shines through the narrative. It’s maybe a bit sarcastic, and definitely self-deprecatory, but I laughed a lot at his wry observations during the story.
The mystery was well constructed with a number of red herrings along the way in the form of several different characters all connected to the local church. I rather enjoyed some of the references to the Church of England and the sly humour of Tom as he visits the church and meets some of its members. I didn’t pick up on who the murderer was until almost at the end, and was pleased that I’d been kept guessing through the story.
The secondary characters of Tom’s police friend, Dave. The vicar, Merry and several other church members were all well drawn and I felt a lot of sympathy for them through Tom’s own sympathetic emotions. Alongside these characters was the city of St Albans. I’ve never visited the City but almost felt I knew it quite well after being taken all over the place by Tom and Phil. Each new location came with a short observation by Tom about the people who lived in that part of town or the ambiance of the various pubs he visits. It allowed me to get a good sense of setting without being bogged down with lengthy descriptions of place.
I only have one slight niggle about the story and that is to do with Phil’s character. Tom is so vivid in this story, larger than life at times, that Phil almost paled next to him and although we find out a few things about Phil’s past, I still didn’t think that by the end I knew him well enough. I had all sorts of questions about him that were never fully answered. Admittedly, some of this is due to Tom not giving Phil the space to talk, but I got the impression that there was a lot more going on under the surface that we barely get to see and that was just a little frustrating for me as a reader.
However, that niggle in no way spoiled my enjoyment of this book. The writing is fresh and lively, with a good dose of the sort of humour I love. The characters, especially Tom, are very likable and realistic. The setting is solid and easy to picture. There were so many other things I could have mentioned that I enjoyed, such as Tom’s observations on his life as a plumber, but I will be here all day if I did! Overall, I highly recommend this book to those who like mysteries, or who are just looking for a fantastic story with great characterisation.