Mike, Ross, Phil, and Raith live and love together as part of a committed and exclusive polyamorous relationship. In the aftermath of a case gone horribly wrong, ex-inspector Mike is refocusing his attention on remodeling the home all four men share. When Phil, a doctor, comes home one day worried about a patient he expects is being trafficked and for whom he feels a physical attraction, the foursome has some serious talking to do.
Words aren’t enough to lay Phil’s fears to rest. Gambling that something bigger than a simple one-off case of trafficking is transpiring in their corner of England, the men decide to investigate a possible lead. What unfolds is a tale of human treachery that leaves a trail of devastation in its wake. Despite their best intentions, Mike and his men get sucked deeper into the situation when one of the trafficked young men winds up seeking refuge at Mike’s shared home. The caveat is that this immigrant is homophobic and fears the absolute worst when he realizes his saviors are actually a group of four men interlinked by their romantic relationships. The man runs away, but encounters trouble that could put Mike and the others in danger.
On top Phil’s concerns with trafficking happening right under their noses, the men must confront some hard realities about their four-way relationship. This is especially hard considering Mike and Ross were a married couple before Phil and Raith joined the relationship. Amid accusations of favoritism and exclusion, the four men must work to figure out if they really can hold steady as a group of four…or if they truly are something less.
This story is a continuation of Trusswell’s Badge of Loyalty. Unlike the first story, where nearly all the action focused almost exclusively on Mike’s former career as a law enforcement officer, Polyamory on Trial offers much more insight into each of the four men’s thoughts. In all honesty, it feels a bit overbalanced. The almost slice-of-life narrations each of the men provide gives a far better understanding of how they approach and handle their various relationships, but while the trafficking thread isn’t entirely lost, it feels like it lacks a lot of punch compared to the interpersonal relationships being depicted.
Trusswell does a far better job detailing the actual relationships between Mike and Ross and Phil and Raith. Mike and Raith seem to have the most distinctive voices. Despite the fact that Ross and Phil are very different conceptually—the latter is a doctor and the former basically managed Raith’s art career—their on-page presence made them feel more or less interchangeable. As far as dynamics go, there is a lot of telling rather than showing, but given that it’s packaged in first-person narrative, it feels more genuine that a third-person narrative would. Despite providing far more personal insight into each of the characters, I never really “bonded” with any of our four main pairings. I also felt that the biggest issues the foursome faced—i.e. the fact that Ross and Mike are married while Phil and Raith are “two singles” added to an “established couple”—was rather glossed over, despite several mentions and more than one character realizing the power imbalance between having one married pair and two singles in the four-way romance.
The writing style felt a somewhat unpolished to me. On the one hand, there are subheadings for most of the chapters telling the reader whose voice we’re reading. However, that does not necessarily mean that character will be the narrator for the entire chapter. More than once, I was jarred by sudden switches into another narrator’s voice. There are also a few areas where the transitions are perfunctorily short. From one paragraph to the next, we might skip several days or weeks in addition to gaining a new narrator.
Overall, this was a mediocre read for me. The only thing that was built up between book one and this book was the fact that Mike was coping with losing his law enforcement job. The characters didn’t feel compelling to me. I appreciated being able to read about their emotional conflicts on page, but despite the increased attention to interpersonal communication amongst the four men, I still didn’t get a strong sense of how they are able to talk their way into making things work. The drama added by the trafficking thread tugs the heartstrings, but feels a bit like padding to add excitement and danger to the relationship thread.