Desert Isle Keeper
The Same End
No one writes AWKWARD, PAINFUL, HILARIOUS, CRINGE-INDUCING, AWESOME, SWEET, TENDER, SEXY dialogue as well as Gregory Ashe. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wince…and then you’ll wish the book was longer.
So, is The Same End good, phenomenal, or what? Yes, it is. It’s brilliant and features one of the three best couples in romantic suspense. The other two – in case you’re curious – are Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset (Hazard and Somerset), and Auggie Lopez and Theo Stratford (The First Quarto), who are also characters penned by Mr. Ashe. Look, if you love romance, then you should be reading Ashe. #hottip
But back to this story. You’re going to have to go and do your homework if you’re sneakily trying to start this series with the last book (terrible idea FWIW)), but here’s a quick catch up: Teancum Leon is a wildlife veterinarian in Utah. Raised in a large Mormon family, he left the church shortly after coming out to his family. He’s a glass half empty kind of guy who can find the worst case scenario in – well, in everything. It’s endearing. For real. Tean is newly single after ending a TOXIC relationship with his married best-friend-since-childhood, Ammon Young, a police detective. In The Same Breath, Tean meets Jem Berger, a grifter, after Jem’s foster brother goes missing. By the end of that novel, they’ve investigated Benny’s disappearance/murder, had an affair that ended badly after Tean discovered Jem was a grifter (thanks, Ammon) and accused him of running a con on him; and Tean finally dumps Ammon. It concludes with Jem and Tean reconciled, but only as friends. In The Same Place, Jem is trying and failing to find gainful employment, and still squatting in vacant apartments; Tean is hoping to date someone new, helping Jem learn to read, and navigating a friendship with someone who has trust issues and lots of secrets and possibly a drug problem. It’s challenging. Ammon – a two-faced jerk who bullies Jem whenever Tean isn’t around – left his family and moved into Tean’s apartment building hoping for a reconciliation. When Tean’s colleague and friend is accused of murder, Tean and Jem try to help clear her name. Jem is a talented investigator, Tean is his calm and cool sounding board who encourages him, and they nearly die before finally identifying the true killer.
The Same End picks up with Tean happily back at work and trying to date (with Jem’s mischievous support) via a hookup app known as Prowler (yes, it’s as hilariously bad as the name suggests), AND trying to maintain friendships with both Jem and Ammon.
“You didn’t misunderstand. We’re going to have dinner. Together. You’re both my friends, and you need to be able to spend five minutes in a room together.”
“Five minutes,” Ammon said. “Starting now.”
“You said we were having pizza,” Jem said. “You didn’t say we were also having a torrential douche.”
“I want to point out that he started it.”
“You started it by being you and having your dumb face—”
“Ok,” Tean said.”
Ahem. Meanwhile, Jem is struggling – with reading, his relationship with his newly identified birth mother, his feelings for Tean, and the daily struggle to let go of a past that continues to sabotage his efforts to be a better man – a man worthy of Tean (whom he adores). Ammon is still trying to get back together with Tean, and secretly harassing Jem and anyone he meets via the Prowler app. He’s a total fucking asshole and we hate him with every fiber of our being and we never feel differently. So don’t get all hopeful.
The mystery suspense part of the story kicks off after Ammon asks Jem to meet with a key suspect in a murder investigation who – hospitalized after fleeing the murder scene – insists Jem can clear his name. After initially refusing the request, Jem reluctantly meets the man – and is immediately transported into horrific memories of his time at Decker Juvenile Hall. Antonio Hidalgo was one of a trio of boys who made Jem’s life a living hell – raping and torturing him for fun. Antonio is accused of killing his girlfriend Andi (a former childhood foster friend of Jem’s), but Antonio insists Tanner Kimball is the true killer. Tanner was the trio’s ringleader and seemed to gain a sadistic pleasure in destroying Jem’s life. Jem thought he locked those nightmares away forever – but in The Same End it’s clear he hasn’t. He hasn’t forgetten – or forgiven.
Seeing Antonio destroys Jem’s hardfought equilibrium and the traumatic nightmares of his time at Decker wreak havoc on his mental health; his hatred of Tanner – and desire for revenge – drives him to take the case anyway. It also motivates a concerned Tean to help him. What follows is a hellish road trip that nearly tears their friendship apart. The investigation is ugly, dark and complicated, and nothing and no one is quite what they seem. Friends, it’s creepily excellent.
But you aren’t only interested in the mystery, are you? You want to know about Jem and Tean! It takes time – and new emotional honesty as both men face their biggest fears – to finally bring this pair together; it’s a painful and bumpy path to happily ever after. Jem is on the struggle bus when the story begins, and things go from bad to worse after he pursues Tanner. He’s using stolen pills to maintain his fragile sanity, but he can’t sleep, he’s a jittery and emotional mess, and he can’t hide his desperate unhappiness from Tean. Meanwhile, Tean nervously navigates around the secrets Jem is keeping about his experiences at Decker – hoping Jem will confide in him, and trying to steer him away from plans for revenge. Their relationship dynamic swings wildly from one moment to the next; hilarious banter gives way to searing, emotional examinations of the beauty and ugliness of the lives they’re both living, into gentle, tender displays of the deep affection they have for each other. Jem is fascinated by Tean’s world view and eager to see it the same way, and Tean tries to understand the forces and experiences that created his amazing, damaged best friend. We know they love each other, but they struggle to let go of the doubts and fears that keep them apart. Enter Ammon. Yep, he lurks in the periphery of this case and tries hard to drive a wedge between them and unfortunately for him, his actions ultimately provide the catalyst for them to admit what they truly feel about each other.
In an incredibly moving and supremely satisfying sequence, Tean and Jem finally become the romantic pairing readers have longed for from the moment they first met – but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Jem finally reveals his past to Tean, and Tean realizes the damage Ammon has wreaked on his life and relationships. And they still haven’t solved this case! Things rapidly go from lovely to ugly and terrifying, and the novel ends with a gentle peek at the new life Jem and Tean are forging together. I loved it and hated it! Readers, this is classic Ashe – satisfying his readers but leaving us yearning, hoping, desperate for more. It’s the perfect endnote for this imperfect pair.
Fans both old and new will be well satisfied – happy – with this last book in the tremendous The Lamb and the Lion series. They’ll also be clamoring for MORE – more Tean, more Jem, more investigations… and more from this ridiculously talented author. Excellent; highly recommended.