Desert Isle Keeper
The Same Place
The Same Place is book two in Gregory Ashe’s The Lamb and the Lion series about a Utah-based wildlife vet and a con man – an odd couple if ever there was one – who, in The Same Breath, teamed up to solve a murder. Like its predecessor, this book is a perfectly balanced combination of mystery and romance boasting an intriguing, tightly-written plot, two flawed but intensely loveable leads, lots of humour and a wonderfully detailed setting.
There are spoilers for The Same Breath in this review.
Several months have passed since the events that brought Tean Leon and Jem Berger together. During that time, they’ve settled into a routine of sorts; they see each other most days, Tean is teaching Jem to read and trying to help (as he sees it) Jem into a normal life, with a job, an apartment and all the things Tean things Jem needs. Jem, however, doesn’t think they’re all that important, but he loves Tean (despite their agreement at the end of the previous book to keep things between them platonic going forward) so he goes along with it. Or tries to. But he keeps getting fired (he’s had six jobs in the last three months!), and things go from bad to worse when he discovers he’s been the victim of identity theft. Someone has taken out (and defaulted) on several credit cards in his name – and the address on the accounts indicates the perpetrator is someone Jem knows only too well – his former, abusive foster mother, LouElla.
Tean has noticed that his friend and colleague Hannah hasn’t been herself lately, but hasn’t liked to ask – when one day, she bursts into tears and tells him she thinks she’s being followed. With Jem jobless yet again, Tean calls Hannah and asks her if she’d consider hiring Jem to look into her situation. After agreeing to the idea – against the wishes of her husband and her very proper Mormon parents, who don’t take her concerns seriously – Tean and Jem spend the weekend tailing Hannah and discover that she is, indeed being watched. By the Salt Lake City PD. Ammon Young – the married detective with whom Tean had a very toxic relationship for well over a decade – and his partner are following Hannah in hopes of finding the whereabouts of a missing woman named Joy Erickson, an eco-terrorist with whom Hannah had once had a close friendship. When they ask her about Joy, they know Hannah isn’t telling them the whole truth – and when she goes missing, Tean and Jem are frustrated by the police’s casual attitude towards her disappearance.
Jem and Tean set about looking for the missing woman – and when they turn up a body, it seems they might have found her. But the cause of death is a mystery. The location of the body and state of the remains indicate that someone wanted them completely destroyed – and the animal teeth marks on the bones seem to be pointing in a certain direction. But is it the right one? While Tean tries to identify the markings and he and Jem are try to find out who or what Hannah is protecting (and why), Tean’s day job keeps him busy tracking a possible outbreak of canine distemper amongst the local coyote population, while Jem is forced to confront the past he hoped he’d left behind in the form of the manipulative and deeply unpleasant LouElla.
As always, the mystery Gregory Ashe has lined up for us takes plenty of unexpected twists and turns, and a number of seemingly unrelated incidents slowly start to take on a new significance. The denouement comes from a direction I really didn’t expect but which, now I think about it, was cleverly and subtly signposted along the way.
But as in all of Mr. Ashe’s books, the richness of the characterisation and complexity of the relationship he creates between his principals, the insight into their thought processes and motivations, are where his writing really is head and shoulders above so many other authors in the genre. Tean and Jem couldn’t be more different – or more perfect for each other; they’re polar opposites and yet they get each other and see each other in ways nobody else ever has. They’re deeply flawed and have been completely fucked up by those who were supposed to care for them – Jem in foster care, Tean by his Mormon family and upbringing – and here we get to see a little more of how those relationships have affected them. Adult Jem projects confidence and good humour, but deep down inside he’s sometimes still that little kid nobody wanted or cared about, while Tean’s family make him feel like a leper because he’s gay. The scene where Tean – with Jem in tow – visits his parents’ home for Mother’s Day reveals so much about why he is the way he is and why he put up with Ammon’s crap for so long; it’s also a pivotal moment of understanding for Tean – and I loved seeing Jem go into full-on protector mode and giving Tean’s horrible relatives what for at the end of it.
The chemistry between Tean and Jem is off the charts, and both men are struggling with their decision to be friends and nothing more. This is a brilliantly written friendship between two people who obviously care for each other a great deal, but who are still working out how to be with and around one another. And – *sigh*- there’s such tenderness and affection underpinning their relationship that there’s no question they’ll always be there for one another. But although the intense attraction that sparked between them is still very much alive, so are the trust and communication issues that caused so many problems and effectively put an end to their burgeouning romance. When they fight, they know just how to twist the knife, but they can also take a step back and see the issues through the other’s eyes – which is, in the end, why they’ll always come back to each other. It’s a wonderful and genuinely loving friendship, and it’s something neither man has ever had before, so they’re understandably wary of screwing it up… plus, Tean has only recently put an end to the affair he’d been having with Ammon, and he’s still unlearning the behaviours and reactions he acquired over nearly two decades of emotional manipulation. But Ammon – who is so much worse than the abusive arsehole I thought he was – wants Tean back, insisting he’s the most important thing is his life and that he’ll do whatever Tean wants so they can be together… and Tean is more inclined to give Ammon the benefit of the doubt than Jem – and this reader – would like.
Once again, the Utah locations are vividly and lyrically described, putting the reader right there amid the lakes and canyons and mountains, and the parts of the story that revolve around living in a faith-based community, and how that affects the people within it as well as those who leave it, are simultaneously fascinating, sad and… just a little bit disconcerting. I know next to nothing about the Mormon way of life, but as with the first book, details are woven very subtly through the story to provide a realistic backdrop for the action and character exploration and development.
The Same Place ends with one of the most beautiful declarations I’ve ever read, and with Jem making a momentous decision. It’s not a cliffhanger as such – the investigation is wrapped up and the guys are safe – but there’s more to be said and I’m very much looking forward to finding out how everything works out in book three, The Same End, when it appears in 2021.