Tom Paretski is still shaken up from the news that his Dad is not his biological father and that Tom was born following his mother’s affair. He hasn’t been able to really face either parent since he learned the truth and is still feeling out of sorts about it all.
When Tom and his boyfriend, private investigator Phil Morrison, are approached by barmaid Marianne, they find themselves working on another case. Marianne’s former boyfriend, Grant Carey, is stirring up trouble, following her around and making threats subtle enough that no one can pin anything on him. Marianne hopes that if Tom and Phil can find out some dirt on Grant from his past, then maybe they can get him to leave her in peace.
Tom and Phil agree to help out in the investigation, but things begin to get tense all over. Tom still is struggling dealing with his parents, who seem to be disapproving of Phil on top of everything else. The area is experiencing a heat wave and everyone is hot and cranky. And as Tom and Phil have some relationship struggles, some difficulty in Phil’s past comes to light and causes Tom to question their relationship. On top of all that, Tom finds a dead body in the basement of the local pub, making things an even bigger mess. Things with Phil have been great over the past year, but with the tough times they are experiencing, Tom isn’t sure who he can trust anymore or if their future together is as strong as he hoped.
I love J.L. Merrow’s writing and I think this story (and this series) captures so many of those elements. Her books are fun with quirky characters and just so… British. I love that when I read one of her books, I just feel immersed in the setting. And Heat Trap is no exception. I feel like I could be sitting at the pub right next to Tom and listening to all the locals chat. And Tom is such a fabulous narrator. He is entertaining and a bit snarky, self deprecating and so amusing. I also love him with Phil. I am a big fan of opposites attract stories and they are such a fun couple, with the big, burly, solid Phil contrasting with the more high strung and quirky Tom.
I once again enjoyed this installment of Merrow’s The Plumber’s Mate series, but I did feel like it was a little flatter than the first two. The first story combined a really exciting and interesting mystery with Tom’s fascinating psychic abilities — he can find things that are lost with his mind. I just loved the way that the book combined Tom’s finding skills with the investigation element. Unfortunately, here the psychic ability end of things is pretty much ignored. Phil suggests Tom use his skills to find his “lost” biological father, and it comes into play once or twice, but mostly this really fascinating skill that is used to such advantage in the first book is barely a factor here. I also think the mystery element falls kind of flat. I mean, Tom finds the dead body in the prologue, so there is no secret something is going to happen. And there just isn’t much of a case here. Basically they are trying to find dirt on Grant, and there is a bit of time spent where we see the guys interviewing some folks, but definitely not a lot of intensity and much of the investigating happens off page. So I missed the excitement of the first and even second book and found this mystery element just didn’t hold up as well as I wanted.
In terms of the relationship, things are definitely strained here for Tom and Phil. As the story goes on and things get more stressful for each of them, they end up bickering and having some trouble working together to sort things out. Both men are quick to jump to conclusions and take offense and it causes some conflicts for them along the way. I think I needed to feel a little more of the solid end of their relationship before I was ready for the conflict side of things. This was a case when I really wish there was more on page intimacy (it is almost all off page and fade to black). I totally appreciate the slow build to their relationship over the series, but I think it made it harder to see them have issues when I never felt like they were totally solid as a couple yet. Then after fighting on and off for the whole book, they make up and are moving forward in their relationship with lightning speed. Perhaps they would want to settle back into things before jumping ahead? But I continue to really like these guys as a couple and really enjoy them together.
So this installment was a little weaker for me than the first two in the series, but I continue to really like Tom and Phil and find the series to be enjoyable. I would love to see more use made of Tom’s psychic skills and more excitement to the mystery installments. So a bit of a mixed bag for me, but I think if you are fans of the series, you are going to want to pick this one up. And if you haven’t read them yet, definitely try out the first book, Pressure Head, as I totally loved it.