Rating: 3.75 stars
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Things are continuing to go well between plumber Tom Paretski and private investigator Phil Morrison. Yes, Tom isn’t quite ready to introduce Phil to his parents (or to meet Phil’s). And despite the fact that it seems like everyone around him is settling down, he still feels uncertain about where things are going between Phil and him. Not to mention that Phil often still wears his ring from his marriage to his late partner. But Tom and Phil are happy together, even if sometimes Tom isn’t quite sure exactly where things are going or quite what he is ready for in their relationship.
Then Tom gets two shocking pieces of news. The first is that an old family friend, “Auntie” Lol, has died and made a strange bequest in her will. She has hidden something in her former home and wants Tom to use his psychic talent for finding lost things to track it down. The only problem is that Lol’s ex-husband still lives in the house and isn’t too thrilled about Tom tromping through it looking for whatever Lol left. The second shock is that Tom’s somewhat stuffy and uptight older sister is getting married, to a reverend no less. Tom and Cherry aren’t particularly close and he can’t quite believe that she is getting married, especially when he meets her slightly odd fiancé Gregory.
Things get even more complicated when someone tries to poison Cherry at her engagement party. With the crush of people there, no one knows who to suspect, or even if Cherry is the intended victim. With Gregory lurking around, as well as a shifty group from Cherry’s former writing circle, there are a lot of possible culprits. And Phil is determined to figure out exactly what is going on, especially if there is a chance that Tom was the intended target. As the attempted murderer tries again, Tom and Phil must work to find out who the guilty party is before it is too late.
Relief Valve is the follow up to Pressure Head, a book I throughly enjoyed featuring Tom and Phil. I had high hopes that Merrow would turn it into a series and bring us more of these guys and I am so glad that she did. Tom and Phil are the highlight for the story for me. They have such a fun banter and way of interacting with lots of teasing and joking, but the affection and attraction they have for one another is always clear. Here we see that they have made progress in their relationship, but Tom is still not quite sure what is going on between them. So there are some interesting moments as Tom reflects on the status of things with Phil and thinks about what he wants out of it. We definitely get some clear progression here in their relationship, though things were still a little vague for me and I would have loved to see it addressed a little more head on after having things stirred up. But I continue to love these guys together and find them such a fun couple. Tom is our POV character and he especially is adorable and quirky and just really entertaining.
As far as the mystery end, I found it enjoyable but just a little bit flat. The suspense element took some time to get off the ground and at the beginning I felt like we spend a lot of time on set up of things that didn’t necessarily end up playing a big role in the larger mystery or moving things forward. Tom’s “finder” skills were such a great part of the first book and I loved how they were worked into the investigation in Pressure Head. But I found them mostly absent here, which was disappointing because it was such a fun and clever aspect to his personality and to the investigation. I also just don’t think overall there was enough suspense or tension in the mystery and the ending felt a little flat, again especially in comparison with the intensity and excitement of the first story. A lot of the possible culprits felt interchangeable to me, and honestly I couldn’t really keep track of who was who. I also felt like the issue with Tom’s aunt hiding something for him didn’t quite live up to the potential. It is such a great setup, but for much of the book it is almost dropped completely. So nothing necessarily bad here, but I just wanted more energy from the mystery and suspense side of things than we got.
I did like the relationship between Tom and his sister. Things have always been distant between them. Cherry is sort of stuffy and uptight and Tom is sort of a friendly everyman. When the book starts off things are stilted and awkward between them, but over the course of the story we really see the relationship blossom between them. Cherry loosens up and Tom becomes more accepting and they both realize how important the other is in their lives. So I liked them together and enjoyed their growth.
So overall I enjoyed this one and continue to really love these characters. I would be thrilled to see Merrow continue with Tom and Phil and would definitely want to read more of their story. I wanted a little more from the mystery side here, but I did like this one and think fans of the first book will enjoy getting more of Tom and Phil.