Married couple Mike and Ross, along with married couple Phil and Raith, are all lovers in a polyamorous relationship. They are also no strangers to high drama. After a tumultuous few years involving Mike losing his job as a cop (along with a few fingers), to Phil’s role as proctologist getting the group involved in a human trafficking case, these men are more than ready for some quiet time. So it comes as quite a surprise when the artist of the group, Raith, gets hauled in for questions about art fraud. It takes a turn for the worse when Raith goes missing…not once, but twice.
Overseeing the art fraud case is detective sergeant Nick Seabrooke. He’s heard some tales about Mike Angells and his men. As someone on the LGBTQ specturm himself, Nick is both interested in and wary of seeing the poly quad in their home, which he must do as he works with them to solve the case. Despite the relief Nick feels at learning these men truly live a simple, domestic life (Raith’s explicit art notwithstanding), he’s also on edge over just how interested he is the dynamics of their relationship. Or rather, he’s keenly interested in Mike’s dynamic. But for someone who knows who he is, a gay man who does not experience sexual attraction, Nick’s finding it hard not to be pulled in by the enigmatic Mike.
This is the third book in Tresswell’s County Durham Quad series. However, having read the first two books (Badge of Loyalty and Polyamory on Trial), I think people new to the series could jump in with this book and keep up pretty well. There are some brief mentions to events in the previous books, but almost nothing in this story depends upon knowing those details.
I was interested in how much the quad is described in pairs (both in narration and via characters’ actions). For some background, Mike and Ross were married before the first book ever happened. Phil and Raith get married at the end of the second book. My interest comes from how often these specific pairings are mentioned on page. Given how often Trusswell closes out scenes with the characters getting ready for bed, it feels like the married pairs seem to form the basic units in the relationship, i.e. Mike and Ross almost always sleep in one bedroom, Phil and Raith almost always sleep in another. There are other pairings, both for intimate and domestic elements, but they don’t seem to have the same on-page weight as these “good night, sleep tight” scenes for me.
The balance of interest between the characters shifts somewhat. Mike still feels like the center of attention to me. He’s the ex-police officer who can offer insight to his lovers about how and why Raith’s being questioned for art fraud. He’s the daredevil who can make daring motorcycle moves to save a lover. He’s the one who’s captured Nick’s attention, despite Nick constantly reaffirming that he does not want any kind of sexual activity or to be part of a relationship (at least, not a polyamorous one). Phil and Ross clearly have their roles (proctologist and gallery owner, respectively) and they’re able to put their professional experiences to work in the book, but by and large, they felt rather flimsy. I did appreciate what felt like a greater number of interactions between the four. We see a lot of them speaking both in pairs (irrespective of who’s married to whom) and as a whole group. That said, it feels like the bulk of these work towards bolstering Mike as a character.
I think Tresswell found some interesting scenarios into which to put the characters. There is a lot of drama surrounding Raith’s first disappearance. This thread pulls together the various elements of the story so well. First, there’s obviously the introduction of Nick—the asexual mentioned in the title. Second, there are the snippets of drama that unfold while Raith’s under captivity. Finally, there’s the way his lovers call on their various and wide-flung network of acquaintances looking for any leads to help find Raith. The inclusion of a second scene where Raith’s in imminent danger added a lot of drama. I just wish that the events related to the case of the counterfeit art came together better as some elements were rather nebulous.
It’s also worth noting that, despite Raith eventually getting off the hook, the art fraud case is not closed. Seabrooke receives a tip about who might be using art to launder money, but that thread will entail getting police undercover for weeks or months. Plus, there’s the whole way Seabrooke is worked, and somewhat wonkily in my opinion, into the lives of the quad. While Phil and Raith were added to Mike and Ross’s initial relationship and done so because all of them loved each other enough to try polyamory, there seems to be less interest in Nick. Actually, it seems like Phil and Ross write Nick off entirely as just a guy who’s doing his job. Raith seem to humor Nick’s interest in their quad. Mike has a few instances where it made me feel like he was on the verge of expressing interest in Nick beyond his role as police officer. We know Nick is clearly interested in Mike in some fashion (a crush or “squish”), but even he seems unsure of what, if anything to do about it. All this seems to indicate there will be a sequel. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, but it did feel like there were at least loose ends concerning Nick and the art fraud case.
Despite the choppy action and Tresswell’s penchant for changing perspectives mid-chapter (usually by connecting an action like a telephone call or something), I enjoyed revisiting this band of lovers. More than the other stories, I felt like I got to see the quad “in action” as a group of men who lived and loved together. Personally, I appreciated the portrayal of Nick’s asexuality (and especially Tresswell’s acknowledgement at the end that this is a rather “narrow” portrayal). Despite the numerous interactions between Nick and the four lovers, I felt like the only closeness that developed was largely relegated to Nick’s quasi-attraction to Mike…something Nick has a hard time acknowledging and the other four seem largely unaware of.