Detectives Valor and Doyle are back in Defying Logic, the fifth book in Nicky James’ series of clever, suspenseful and consistently engrossing romantic mysteries set in Toronto. Five books in, and the two leads are as captivating as ever, they’re still growing as characters and their relationship continues to evolve in a most satisfactory way. In addition, Defying Logic boasts possibly the most complex, convoluted mystery of the series so far, and Quaid has to deal with an unwanted upheaval in his working life while Aslan is struggling in the wake of the traumatic events that took place at the end of Inevitable Disclosure.
Note: While the mysteries in this series are self-contained, the central relationship is ongoing and there are references to previous events in this story; as a result, there are spoilers in this review.
It’s been two months since Aslan was forced to shoot and kill Columbus Nottingham, the twelve-year-old boy who murdered his own sister and then threatened the life of Aslan’s partner Torin. Rationally, he knows he had no choice but to do what he did, but emotionally? He questions his decision every day. Aslan has been cleared to return to work, but the minute he was faced with having to pick up his service weapon, he just couldn’t do it, the scenes he’s fought so hard to forget overwhelming him and causing him to bolt. Carrying a gun and being prepared to use it if necessary is part of being a cop, which is all Aslan has ever wanted to be, but now? He misses the job, misses his partner, misses the intensity of working a case, the thrill of solving puzzles and digging for answers – but what if he can never pick up a gun again?
Quaid knows Aslan is living on a knife-edge, battling for his sobriety and perhaps even his sanity – but he also knows that the only thing he can do is be there to love and support him through it. Still, it’s hard for him to watch the man he loves going through such agony and not be able to do more.
And Quaid has problems of his own. After his long-time partner had to step back to care for her sick daughter, he’s been assigned a rookie detective by the name of Jordyn Frawley – and things are not going well. Even though he knew he couldn’t continue to work alone, Quaid was dreading starting all over again with someone new; he likes stability and doesn’t handle change well, he knows he can be difficult and isn’t easy to like, and had achieved a level of comfort and trust with Eden that took a lot of work. His boss assigned Frawley to him because he thought they were two of a kind, but Quaid has no idea what he can have been thinking because he and Frawley are nothing alike. She’s standoffish and prickly and quick to take offense – and no matter what, Quaid can’t seem to do anything right.
His latest case, that of Duncan Lynd, an active, healthy eighty-two-year-old man who has been missing for over a week, has reached a series of frustrating dead-ends, leaving Quaid with no alternative but the one he really hates – to call off the search. There’s nothing to suggest foul play, the press conferences and neighbour and family interviews have yielded nothing – Lynd has just disappeared without a trace, leaving Quaid – and Frawley – no alternative but to move on to their next case.
This happens to be that of Holly Bartlett, a twenty-six-year-old dental student currently on a clinical rotation at a local clinic, and who hasn’t turned up for work since the end of the previous week. Quaid and Frawley quickly establish that Holly has a reputation for being somewhat absent-minded, and that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened – “She’s one of those super smart people who are so absentminded they can’t remember what day of the week it is.”
They start by speaking to people who knew Holly, taking a look around her apartment – and something begins to niggle at the back of Quaid’s mind. It takes him a while to work out what it is, then he remembers the numbers stamped into the wooden surface of Holly’s front door – and that there were another (different) three stamped on the front door of Duncan Lynd’s house. Quaid has no idea what the numbers mean, but this finding defintely suggests that perhaps their disappearances may be related. Then when another set of numbers is found, this time at the home of a sixteen-year-old girl who has gone missing, Quaid is certain there’s a connection between the three victims. But they’re all so different – the octogenarian, the absent-minded twentysomething and the brilliant teen – that it’s hard to see what that connection could be.
As I said at the outset, the mystery is a complicated one, and it certainly lives up to the book’s title! It’s intricate and clever, with lots of twists, turns and red herrings; the people Quaid and Frawley have to deal with clearly have things to hide and are only too willing to throw others under the bus so they can keep their secrets. I had my suspicions as to who the culprit was at various points throughout, but those suspicions kept changing, and in the end, I wasn’t completely sure whodunit right up until the reveal.
Knowing how much Aslan needs a distraction, Quaid brings him in (unofficially) to help out with a bit of grunt work, but is careful to make sure no lines are crossed. I’ve said before that I really appreciate that Ms. James clearly gives a lot of thought as to how she can have them working together plausibly rather than just teaming them up to solve every case regardless of their having different partners and belonging to different departments. I was pleased to see more of IT expert Ruiz and his growing friendship with Quaid; it’s good to see Quaid unbending with someone besides Aslan, and I enjoyed their good-natured teasing. Also much appreciated was getting to check in on Torin to see how he’s handling the aftermath of what happened; he’s got a lot to process, too, and he’s doing it without Aslan, who is probably the only person around who can really understand what he’s going through. I was glad when Quaid told Aslan to get his head out of his arse and stop ignoring Torin’s calls, pointing out that he’s struggling, too, and could do with some support. Watching Quaid struggling to connect with Frawley is tough, and her glacier-level of frostiness at the beginning makes her hard to like, but the author also makes it easy to see where she’s coming from – which doesn’t quite cancel out the dislike, but does mitigate it somewhat. Progression is made, however, and by the end of the book, it seems that maybe things will work out – although it’s not going to be an easy road.
As a couple, Quaid and Aslan are more solid than ever. Quaid is much more confident in Aslan’s feelings for him and he’s one hundred percent there for Aslan, knowing when to push and when not to, realising what he needs and doing his best to meet them. (And yes, sometimes they’re sexy needs :P) And Aslan looks after Quaid in so many ways that show how he feels, taking him his favourite foods (even though Aslan hates them) when he forgets to eat, trying to cater for his picky eating habits at home (even though it means the kitchen looks like a war zone afterwards). They know how different they are, but they’ve learned to make room for each other’s habits and idiosyncracies so now, they just… fit.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the newest member of the Valor-Doyle family – Oscar, the six-week-old kitten Aslan adopts. Quaid is, of course, a bit nervous about this new development but soon, he’s as much of a big softie over him as Aslan is. Which is exactly as it should be because – KITTEN!
Defying Logic combines an excellent mystery that will keep you guessing, with romance, humour, poignancy, tenderness, and lots of character growth. (And a cute kitten!) And there’s more good news for series fans – the author has said there are at least two more Valor and Doyle books to come! While we wait for those, however, there’s this latest terrific instalment to enjoy.
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