Teancum Leon is a wildlife veterinarian in Salt Lake City. One day, he is visited in his office by a man named Jem, who is looking for his missing brother, Benny. Tean knows Benny, as the man has some mental health issues and frequently comes to Tean’s office with conspiracy theories about various environmental dangers (though Tean admits that Benny is usually at least partly right). Tean is troubled by Jem’s story, particularly as one of Tean’s coworkers was recently murdered under suspicious circumstances that seem job related. Tean is surprised to find that he wants to not only help Jem dig into what happened to Benny, but also welcomes Jem into his home since he is from out of town. Tean tends to be a “glass half empty” kind of guy and he doesn’t trust easily, so this is unusual for him.
Jem grew up in foster care and Benny is the only foster brother he ever really cared about. Jem has had a very difficult past and now survives running small cons. He knows how to play the game, how to turn on the charm and put on the right face. So he doesn’t admit to Tean that he lives in Salt Lake, but instead pretends that he is visiting from California to look into Benny’s disappearance. Jem doesn’t trust any more easily than Tean does and he isn’t going to give away more than he has to.
As the two men dig into Benny’s disappearance, things become even more suspicious as they face threatening phone calls, a truck that tries to run them off the road, and violent attacks. It is becoming increasingly clear that this time Benny really may be onto to something, something big that someone wants to keep quiet. At the same time, Tean and Jem find themselves drawn to one another, each letting down their barriers in ways they rarely allow. But there are big secrets between them looming over their newfound happiness. Not to mention someone who is willing to do anything to keep their own secrets from coming to light — even if they have to kill again to do it.
The Same Breath is the first book in Gregory Ashe’s new The Lamb and the Lion series and I totally adored it. It has Ashe’s trademark of fascinating, well-developed, and often troubled characters, combined with a really great mystery. I found the mystery side of the plot really engaging and Ashe makes wonderful use of the Salt Lake City setting, taking us through the city itself, as well as into the surrounding mountains. There is a great sense of place here that really brings a lot to the whole story, but particularly the investigation. The case is twisty and interesting, with a large cast of potential bad guys, which kept me guessing as to who was behind it all and why. I think things could have been a tiny bit tighter toward the end to pull it all together, but overall, I found the mystery really entertaining and I enjoyed seeing how all the pieces came together at the end of the story.
While Ashe always gives readers a great balance of the mystery and the relationship, in this book, the connection between Jem and Tean is what shined through most brightly for me. They are such fascinating characters and I loved watching them fall for one another. Neither man trusts easily, so it was so rewarding watching them each let go with one another despite themselves. Jem is used to doing whatever he needs to do to survive. It is all part of the game, part of the public face he needs to put on to protect himself. So I enjoyed seeing him take down that facade and be open with Tean. He isn’t ready to share all his secrets, but he trusts Tean and that allows him to share parts of himself that others rarely see. For Tean, he is a guy who protects himself by imagining the worst. I kind of get the sense he thinks that if he expects bad things to happen, it will be less awful when they really do. Most people can’t handle Tean’s constant litany of fears and doubts, but Jem is able to take it in stride and, in doing so, is able to often talk Tean down when he starts to spiral. Here is an example:
“That’s really kind of you,” Jem said. “But you shouldn’t take off a day to help me.”
“It’s not just to help you. I’m doing it for Benny. And I’m doing it for me. Whoever these guys are, I want to find them and tell Ammon before they can cause any more trouble.”
“See?” Jem said. “You’re a good guy.”
“Besides, I’ve got a million sick days, and I’ll probably get hit by a truck and die before I can use them.”
“Or some bureaucrat will key something in wrong and erase all of them.”
Jem nodded again.
“I’ll probably get fired before then.”
“Think of it as a fresh start.”
“And that’s if we don’t all die of climate change.”
“Well, yeah, obviously,” Jem said, grinning as he slouched against the wall, the heavy muscles in his chest and arms drawing Tean’s eyes.
“I guess we should go,” Tean said.
“Is that a phone in your pocket,” Jem asked, “or are you just happy to see me?”
Tean didn’t exactly run to the door, but he made pretty good time.
The men have such a fun dynamic, partly because the way they interact with each other is so different than how they are with anyone else. This scene cracked me up as it encapsulates so much about them and their interaction. We see Tean’s self-protective pessimism and Jem’s ability to get Tean to relax. It also showcases Tean’s frequently uptight, rule following nature, with Jem’s more go-with-the flow attitude (as well as Tean’s total ignorance of anything pop culture related, but I cut that out because the quote was getting long.)
“No, I’m serious. What kind of bird was that?”
Tean rolled his eyes; his glasses were falling off again, and he pushed them back up.
“Come on, Doc,” Jem said. “You’re dying to tell me.”
“I’m not dying to tell you.”
“You probably know eighteen facts about how that bird is a disease carrier and how now we’re probably going to die from the bubonic plague, but only if there isn’t an earthquake first and we’re buried alive in the mine.”
Tean shoved his glasses up his nose again and crossed his arms. He was trying not to smile.
“Fine,” Jem said. “I’ll just call it the black-and-white-cookie bird.”
“That’s not what they’re called. That’s a ridiculous name. Nobody would call them that.”
The guard came back, but before he could speak, Jem said, “Hey, buddy, you had a black-and-white-cookie bird flying around here. They’re a real nuisance; you might want to get someone to look at it.”
“Sir?” the guard said.
“Black-and-white-cookie—” Jem said loudly, leaning over Tean.
“It was a magpie,” Tean said, shoving Jem back into his seat. “A black-billed magpie. What did Ms. Nash say?”
“Go on up,” the guard said. “That bench straight ahead. She’s in the red trailer; her name’s on the door.”
“Scientifically, though,” Jem said, leaning toward the window again, “the community is very divided over whether to call it the black-and-white-cookie bird or—”
Tean didn’t exactly punch the gas, but the truck did jump forward a little too fast.
“A black-billed magpie,” Jem said.
I can’t possibly convey it all here, but these characters are so fascinating and well developed. Each man has so many layers, so much story that we slowly uncover, particularly with regard to their pasts. One piece that plays into the story a lot is Tean’s relationship with a Ammon, a local police officer. The two are friends turned fuck buddies, mostly because Ammon is married with kids and has no intention of coming out, regardless of what Tean may hope. They have an unpleasant relationship and there is a complicated dynamic that we just start to see explored, but that Tean isn’t ready to discuss. So there is just a lot here that is really wonderfully developed and made these characters continue to engage me throughout the story. In typical Ashe fashion, while the mystery wraps up here, the relationship is not resolved at this point. So don’t expect any kind of traditional happy ending at this point, as things are just really beginning for the men. Despite this, I loved their connection and felt so completely drawn in to both of these men.
So this was a great start to the new series and I am totally caught up in it. I found Jem and Tean and their relationship so fascinating, and I barely touched the tip of the iceberg where these characters are concerned. I am so eager for more to see how things develop as the series continues.