PRESSURE HEAD by JL Merrow
Pressure Head by JL Merrow
Reviewed by Cassie
Tom Paretski isn’t just your average, run-of-the-mill plumber. He’s got a talent for finding hidden things—especially bodies. Because of his talent, the local police call him when they need help. When a friend on the force asks him to help the police find the body of a missing girl, Tom agrees. He doesn’t expect that Phil Morrison, his former high school bully / crush, to turn up at the scene in his capacity as a private investigator, hired by the missing girl’s family. Since Phil was partially responsible for the accident that left Tom with a permanent limp, Tom’s less than pleased to see him.
To his surprise, Phil is openly gay, and seems to be attracted to Tom. Tom’s own interest in Phil isn’t as dead as he thought. As they work together to investigate an increasingly difficult case, things between Tom and Phil heat up. Does Phil really want Tom, or is his interest motivated by something else?
Pressure Head is an unusual tale of what happens when the past and present collide. Tom is going about his business, working, helping the police, and spending time with friends. He’s matter-of-fact about his job, his life, and his talent. He doesn’t like searching for dead bodies, but he knows he’s the best person for the job with his strange ability. He makes a good narrator, in part because in spite of his talent he’s basically a regular guy, snarky, funny, and loyal to his friends. He doesn’t dwell on his high school days, even though they left him scarred emotionally and physically. Then Phil shows up at his latest body retrieval, and Tom’s thrown into a bit of a tailspin. Lingering anger and resentment come out, as well as the latent attraction he thought he was over.
Phil has both changed and stayed the same since high school. He’s still attractive and still snipes at Tom at every turn. He’s also out and gay, and apologetic over his role in Tom’s injury. Phil’s presence, and his hot-and-cold behavior, both confuse and arouse Tom, keeping him off balance. Against the advice of Tom’s detective friend, Tom helps with Phil’s continued work on the case of the young woman’s death. They meet an odd assortment of suspects, and Tom blithely puts himself in danger several times, to Phil’s frustration. An assortment of possible suspects and witnesses populates the book, many with secrets they’d like to keep hidden, keeping Tom and Phil both busy and confused.
Both the mystery and romance angles of Pressure Head held my interest. I really liked Tom and his unique ability. He uses it when he needs to, and feels bad when he uncovers things he shouldn’t have been looking for. He’s a decent guy who’s been through a lot in his life, but doesn’t sit around and whine about it. Phil was a bit harder to get a handle on. Since Tom’s the narrator, Phil’s motives and feelings are a mystery most of the time. Sometimes he’s a real jerk, too, especially when he first ran into Tom. Later I started to like him, especially after reading what sorts of things had shaped his character as an adult. There’s no insta-love here. Both of these guys have issues, and they have to work through them. Not to mention there’s a case to solve!
The plot features a few twists and turns. The secondary characters, including Tom’s friends and the many suspects, were all strange and interesting in their own ways. Neither the mystery nor the romance took over the story too much (although the romance could have taken over a bit more and I wouldn’t have minded a bit). Even better, there isn’t any super-sweet ending, but a hopeful and more realistic one. JL Merrow’s quirky, offbeat characters and storyline turned out to be just what I was in the mood for. I don’t think I’ve read a book by Ms. Merrow that I didn’t like, and Pressure Head turned out to be no exception.