Timothy “Kip” Stoker is caught between a rock and a hard place. His latest case could restore his fortunes at the Yard or destroy them forever. He’s been tasked to retrieve a child, who along with its mother was given into the care of the Daughters of Eve. This sisterhood projects an air of benevolence, but Kip realizes there may be darker forces at work. Worse yet, he must work the case alone, separated from his lover and sometimes partner, the irrepressible Hiero Bash. But when Heidi’s ward, Callie, has her mother stolen by the Daughters, Kip and Hiero find themselves working the same case yet again.
The Daughters aren’t the only ones with secrets though. As Hiero and Kip begin to untangle the twisted roots of lies, murder, and religious corruption at the heart of the sect, they are forced to confront the secrets they’ve held from one another as well. The love they share is absolute, but far from complete, and each fears the day the other will leave. In the midst of a terrible darkness, Kip and Hiero may be able to find a measure of light … if they aren’t killed first.
The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree is the second in the Stoker and Bash series and a direct follow up to The Fangs of Scavo. It’s a series that must be read in order so be aware. My biggest issue with the first book was pacing and that problem has vanished with this newest installment. The story, which is historically rooted, caught my attention from the start and never faltered. The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree deals with some fairly disturbing themes, including baby farming and the murder of children, so it definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. But it’s a gripping read to be sure.
As before, the real strength of this book is Kip and Hiero. They are such a well synced and immersive couple, I find them to be utterly captivating and at least part of that stems from their devotion to one another. Despite Hiero’s refusal to speak of his past or even expose his skin to Kip’s view, they find a way to make their love work. We know something horrible happened to Hiero, but not the specifics, and so his reluctance to fully trust Kip can be a bit frustrating, but it’s part of what makes Hiero so uniquely Hiero. And in Kip we see a man struggling to walk the balance between where thinks he should be and where he actually should be. It’s as hard for him to let go of the past as it is Hiero. But the push and pull on both men is why their relationship works so well.
In addition to Hiero and Kip, The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree has a well rounded cast of secondary characters. We learn more about Callie, Hiero’s fierce ward, and the unflappable Han, his close friend and man of action. They are only two members of Hiero’s unusual household, but it’s a home where they are welcome just as they are. This amalgamation isn’t always realistic given the time period, but it doesn’t matter because it’s good to know that such a place exists, even if it’s fictional.
The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree is pretty much every thing I want in a good book — a wonderful romance, some angst, some dark revelations, and just enough historical detail to make it believable. This story has certainly surpassed the initial in the Stoker and Bash series and I’m thoroughly bummed because now we have to wait until 2019 for the next chapter in Kip and Hiero’s story.