I loved “Pressure Head” and although I enjoyed “Relief Valve”, I wasn’t quite as enamoured with it as I was with Tom’s and Phil’s first adventures. I checked a list I had made back then about what I favoured the most in J.L. Merrow’s books :
- the front seat in her characters’ head
- her chameleon gift
- her language
- her unlikely couples
- her cats
The cats, all flicking tail, kneading paws and domestic tyranny, are still very much appreciated guest stars.
The couples are quite good matches, but still offer colourful secondary characters. Darren and Gary are back in the cast, a little quieted down by domestic bliss, but still clowning around with their antics, dramatic lovers’ spat and reconciliation, still endearing with their out-and-proud sincerity and open-handed friendship.
It was fun getting acquainted with new characters such as Cherry, Tom’s big sister, and her fiancé Gregory whom I particularly enjoyed, as he is portrayed like a gay-friendly yet ominous Frollo with a hint of Quasimodo in the giant mitts. He scares the living shit out of Tom, and it’s hilarious, although suspicious. Single, entertaining and louche are the literati; obviously innocent and my jackpot for her name only as it made me giggle every single time it was mentioned : Auntie Lol.
I like the splitting perspective with which J.L. Merrow manages to write her secondary characters. We see them first through Tom’s very subjective window, and the sight gradually opens as they flesh out through their actions to become finally full characters.
The story is written in 1st person POV, like in “Pressure Head” and pretty much all Merrow’s books I’ve read so far. Annnd… I squirmed in my front seat.
This is Tom’s one-man show, and man! Does he have a talkative mind! “Relief Valve” is a festival of Britishism, a firework of puns, a thesaurus of English slang, which I loved in the first installment and curiously found tiresome in this one. Perhaps I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind, perhaps my mood wasn’t playful enough, perhaps my tastes changed in the meantime, but at the end of the day, the 357 pages-long avalanche annoyed me and more often than not, I wished that Tom could filter his attention and put a leash on his wanderings so that we could get back to the story.
Oh, I giggled, I chuckled, I snort laughed, I even highlighted! I still heart Tom and Phil and I cared for their carefully developing romance, their gruff tenderness, and their scared tip-toeing. The mystery is good, I liked its construction, how it started right into the action and then rewound to the premises, presented, suspected and developed, passed by the starting point with a new lighting to finally follow its course.
But I also felt like Tom’s ramblings were too often an excuse for writing funny lines rather than actual contributions, and I felt in places like I was reading a without contest very well written exercise in style, but still an indulging exercise more than a story telling.
It didn’t annoy me to the extent of disliking the book, but it sure diminished my enjoyment. My list still stands, but less is more.
This is part of a joint review with Tracy. She rated it 4,5 stars. Check her review out.