Title: The Same End
Series: The Lamb and the Lion: Book Three
Author: Gregory Ashe
Length: 455 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: Watching two people learn to accept that they deserve to be loved while they’re falling in love with each other is essential to Ashe’s storytelling, and that’s true again in The Same End. This is as gorgeous a book as this author has gifted his readers yet, emotionally lush, deeply introspective, and pretty perfect in every way.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Teancum Leon is pretty sure that if he plays his cards right, he can have it all: his childhood friend and former lover, Ammon Young; his best friend (although Tean is loath to admit it), Jem Berger; and his family. A boyfriend might even be in his future, although he’s having a heck of a time getting a second date with the guys he meets on Prowler.
Then the key suspect in a murder investigation asks to speak with Jem, overturning the precarious balance Tean has worked to maintain. A girl Jem knew in childhood is dead, and the man believed to have killed her was one of Jem’s tormentors at Decker Lake Juvenile Detention Center. Antonio Hidalgo insists he is innocent, and he begs Jem to find the real killer, a man Jem knows very well, the man who masterminded his torture at Decker: Tanner Kimball.
When Jem decides to check out Antonio’s story, Tean insists on helping. Their search takes them into Utah’s high desert, a land of redrock cliffs and hoodoo stones. But everything changes when they find a dead man in a remote canyon. He carries Tanner’s wallet, but the body has been disfigured, making identification difficult—if not impossible. Jem is convinced that the scene has been staged, and he’s determined to find Tanner and make him pay for the bodies in his wake.
Warnings begin piling up from the chief of police, the sheriff, a Bureau of Land Management special agent, even a Utah Highway Patrol trooper. Everyone wants Tean and Jem to understand that it’s in their best interest to go back to Salt Lake before they dig any deeper. A shipment of illegal drugs—several million dollars’ worth—might be the motive. But Tean and Jem begin to suspect that something else is driving events: a motive darker and stronger than money. Learning the truth, though, will take both men on a collision course with the past.
Review: Something as organic as a man who needs kindness and compassion at its most profound level finding someone who is not only kind and compassionate, but is so because that someone is also a little broken himself, is the romantic premise of Gregory Ashe’s the Lamb and the Lion series. Teancum Leon and Jem Berger shouldn’t work on paper, as the saying goes, but in a brilliant stroke of storytelling, that is exactly where they work best—on the page, and above all else, in The Same End. This book, in my most humble opinion, elevates Ashe’s writing to a whole other level.
Deeply introspective at times, The Same End feels, perhaps, a bit more personal in its observations, particularly in the ways Tean’s Mormon upbringing, his relationship with his family (his father and brothers, in particular), his thoughts about nature, life and death and the human condition, how he feels about himself, and the cumulative effects of those things, have merged to shape his perspective on how he exists in and moves through the world. Of course, this is not the first time Ashe has touched on some or all of these subjects in his writing, but the critical component in this series, and this installment in particular, is their convergence, the sharpness of emotion they engender, and the tragic means by which these characters are forced to not only overcome but to transcend.
This book combines these various elements and weaves them into a mystery that forces Jem to come face to face with his past at its most brutal, and we watch its debilitating effect on him and, by association, on Tean as well. There is a “when push comes to shove” element that builds and eventually culminates in the crisis Tean faces when he comes to a confrontation that forces him to choose between what is considered moral and the very human instinct to survive by whatever means necessary. Jem’s familiarity with that code, and the sometimes ambiguous nature of what is deemed moral when pressed, condenses to the question of how he has managed to survive to get where he is, and why he’s earned the right to be there. Jem is as much a moral gray area character as this is a moral gray area book, and it says something about Ashe’s writing that I loved Jem and Tean and the book, wholesale.
So much of romance in fiction is watching two people find and fall in love with each other, but Ashe’s brand encompasses something more—he coaxes his characters to love themselves a little more first, or at least to be a bit kinder to themselves before they can be part of a healthy relationship with someone else, and that’s an integral piece to the relationships he writes. Tean and Jem unmistakably represent this necessity over the course of the three books, and are delivered to their moment in heartrending and, in a lovely contrast, some truly humorous ways. Banter has always been a hallmark of this author’s writing, and some of those exchanges between Tean and Jem left me wheezing—that is, when I wasn’t busy feeling painfully, emotionally wrecked.
The characters, their friendship, the events that have shaped who they are and how they move through the world, how they interact with each other, their coping mechanisms, and the escalation of their relationship all come together so beautifully. That The Same End is superlative won’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with and loves Gregory Ashe’s voice, but there’s something just that little bit special about this book, something so lushly resonant in its telling. If asked to name it, the simple answer would be Tean and Jem.
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