Buy Link: The Salisbury Key
Author: Harper Fox
Publisher: Samhain
Length: Novel

Rating: 4.25

Dan Logan is a British archaeology professor living with his older partner and fellow professor Jason Ross.  Dan has loved and admired Jason since before the men became a couple three years ago, but Jason has been acting strangely and seems even more obsessed with his passion for uncovering relics in the nearby Salisbury Plain.  Daniel is shocked and devastated when Jason inexplicably kills himself, leaving Dan struggling for answers about what was really going on and what caused Jason to want to take his own life.

The Salisbury Plain has been under the control of the military since 1898 and has been used as a training ground. The men have been fighting unsuccessfully to look for artifacts on the land, however soon after Jason’s death Dan is allowed access. He is accompanied by Lieutenant Rayne, an army explosives expert from the base. Although Daniel is still grieving for Jason, he begins a relationship with Rayne soon after Jason’s death.

As the story continues, the men begin to explore the Salisbury Plain, as well as some clues that emerge about what Jason was really up to. At this point the book turns into more of a thriller as they find that there is a lot more really going on with the military, biological weapons research, ancient artifacts, and other secrets from Jason’s past. Dan and Rayne race to solve the mystery of the Salisbury Key and stay ahead of those seeking to stop them.

I really enjoyed this book, although it felt divided into two parts.  The first 2/3 or so of the book focuses much more on Jason, his death, Dan’s grieving, and his developing relationship with Rayne.  I had no problems with the speed with which Dan and Rayne begin a physical relationship, mostly because it is clear from the blurb that Jason is not the hero of the story so I knew it was coming. It is also increasingly obvious to the reader (and eventually less so to Dan) that there are lot of flaws in his relationship with Jason.  The men have a 30-year age gap, and in many ways Jason has a very paternal role in their partnership.  Dan has let most of his friends from before they were together drift away.  Jason handles all the finances and their lives adapt primarily to his wishes and interests.  It is not so much that he is controlling as that he is just so much the dominant partner and Dan adores him and wants to mold himself to what Jason wants.

The biggest hurdle in this section for me is that there is just so much of Jason.  He casts a very long shadow, understandably so as Dan’s grief and the mystery of Jason’s past are such prominent parts of the story.  Yet I found myself wishing that some of this would be cut back to allow more time for Dan and Rayne’s relationship to shine.  Jason doesn’t die until about 20% of the way through the story and it just made it a bit hard to make the mental shift from one relationship to the other.

The story really picked up for me though in the second half when Dan and Rayne take a larger role.  I thought the unraveling of the mystery was fast-paced and exciting.  I loved the two men, both separately and together.  I could feel their bond as two people who had been independent since a young age and were now finding someone who could be an equal partner, giving them support but allowing them independence as well.  Over the course of the story both men must face the reality that what they saw as a refuge and the people they thought they could trust were somewhat of an illusion.  And each has major issues to overcome from their past.

The Salisbury Key was a beautifully written story. There is so much nuance and detail in the way that Fox writes, I could feel all the pieces coming together as the story progressed. The beginning felt a bit slow to me, but once I got further along I was caught up in both the mystery and the relationship and really enjoyed both Dan and Rayne. Recommended read.

P.S. This book was part of my Goodreads Bingo challenge I mentioned in my review of Fugly.  The category was “Best Gay Tearjerker with a Happy Ending.”