Rating: 3.75 stars
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Walter Kennett is the local nurse in the tiny village of Bradfield. He works and mostly lives with his good friends, Lucille Hall-Bridges and doctor Sylvia Marks, joining Sylvia after the war. One day, an early knock on the door awakens them as a body has been found in the village pond. It appears the woman was chased, fought an attacker, got a head injury, and died before she ended up in the pond. What makes matters complicated is that both Sylvia and Lucy saw the woman the evening before and quarreled with her. But even more concerning is the fact that they all suspect that this wasn’t a human killer, but something supernatural.
When Detective Simon Frost arrives on the scene, his investigation reveals that not only did the victim hit Lucy the night she died, but witnesses report that they heard Lucy return to the victim’s home that evening, making her the prime suspect. As Walter learns more about what happened that evening, it is more clear that this is not a natural crime, but that something was unleashed from beyond. But of course, there is no way to explain that to Simon, nor can Walter out Sylvia and Lucy’s relationship by indicating that Sylvia can provide an alibi for where Lucy was all night long.
While Simon is pretty sure he doesn’t actually think Lucy is the killer, he also knows that Walter, Lucy, and Sylvia are keeping secrets. He also finds himself drawn to Walter, and can’t help but want to stop by frequently during the investigation. When Simon ultimately learns the truth about the supernatural, he can scarcely believe it, yet he is willing to at least consider what Walter is telling him is the truth. As Simon gets closer to figuring out the mystery, he and Walter begin to grow closer as well. But something is out there that has killed one woman, and if they are not careful, they could be next.
The Quid Pro Quo is the second book in A.L. Lester’s Bradfield Trilogy, taking place in the author’s larger Border Magic universe. This book features a new couple in Simon and Walter, and the events of the last book are explained nicely here, so I think new readers could follow along. But I do think that this works best as part of the trilogy, as Sylvia and Lucy are the leads in book one and play a big role here, as does Walter in their book.
The focus of this story is on the murder and the fact that Lucy, Sylvia, and Walter have secrets that impact the investigation, but that they can’t reveal, at least at first. The night of the murder, Lucy and Sylvia were with the victim and Lucy is very clear something dangerous and supernatural was lurking. The three assume that whatever it was ended up being the killer, but they can’t exactly reveal that to Simon. And, of course, while Sylvia is Lucy’s alibi for the time of killing, they must be wary about revealing that to Simon as well. So when Simon begins to see Lucy as a suspect, it sets up a conflict with Walter, who is steadfastly defending her, but also not able to fully reveal why he knows she is innocent.
As the group agrees to let Simon in on more of what they know, it allows Simon to begin to work with them, rather than against them, and gives an opportunity for things to grow between he and Walter. The men are sweet together and this is a slow getting-to-know-you story rather than an intense romance. The men end with a soft HFN, just starting to explore some sort of relationship. Aside from all the secrets involving the murder, Simon also has to decide when to share with Walter that he is transgender, and this comes fairly late in the book. So by the time the guys are really laying the groundwork to begin to explore some sort of relationship, the story is basically over. I wished for a little more time to see them together and how they might build something between them. I am fine with an HFN ending, but we really get just the barest of a relationship foundation starting just as things end, and I wanted to see a little more explored.
The paranormal end here is kept fairly light compared to the first book where we learned much more about the world and saw more of it explored. It really plays so small a role overall (other than there being a supernatural killer, of course) and I feel like for a story that is a historical paranormal, particularly one where the characters got so much deeper into the supernatural side in the last book, I wanted a little more here. I think the author may be relying too much on some readers’ familiarity with the larger world of the Border Magic universe to fill in holes and understand the world building. However, for the second book in a trilogy that is designed to stand alone, I feel like it would have been helpful to go more in depth into the world here, rather than less. That said, the supernatural element adds nicely to the larger conflict surrounding Simon and Walter and it works well with the case.
Just as a quick note, there is a possible trigger scene here as at one point Walter misinterprets Simon’s words as indicating he expects sexual favors for keeping quiet about Lucy and Sylvia’s relationship, and Walter gives him a blow job thinking it is payment of sorts. Walter indicates he would have been willing regardless, and Simon is clear afterwards that he had not held any such expectations or mean any attempts at coercion. But be aware if this is a sensitive area for you. FWIW, this seems to be the derivation of the title, as Walter thinks the sex is “quid pro quo” for Simon’s silence, and Walter had a similar experience while in the military. But I do find it an odd choice for title as it doesn’t seem to have any connection to the themes of the larger story.
Overall, I found this one an engaging second installment in this trilogy. I do feel like the romance could have been expanded a little more, along with the world building. But I found myself very engaged with Simon and Walter’s growing relationship, as well as the mystery. I enjoyed visiting with Sylvia and Lucy again as well, along with their small village. I am eager to see what is coming for the final book in the trilogy and reconnecting with these characters and this world once again.