Fish on a Bicycle
Jackson Rivers and Ellery Cramer are back – perhaps a little the worse for wear – in this fifth instalment of Amy Lane’s Fish Out of Water series, and they’re starting a new chapter of their lives. After being shot, stabbed and almost poisoned to death during their pursuit of Carl Lacey, the man responsible for turning trained assassins into serial killers, Jackson and Ellery have spent several months recovering from their injuries, and are, when Fish on a Bicycle opens, gearing up for the opening of their new law firm. But some injuries take longer to heal than others, and Jackson, already carrying a shedload of emotional scars that are barely scabbed over, seems only to have acquired more in the wake of the events that went down in the desert.
A Few Good Fish saw Jackson and Ellery teaming up with Ace and Sonny from the author’s Racing for the Sun and also served as the introduction to Lee Burton, a military assassin, and Ernie, his ‘witchy’ boyfriend who, besides being an awesome baker, is more than a little bit psychic. (Their story can be found in Hiding the Moon.) Fish on a Bicycle is something of a crossover story, too, in that it features Henry Worrall, brother of Dex from the author’s Johnnies series about a group of young men who work in the porn industry. I haven’t read any of those stories (although I have some on the TBR of dooooom!) and a number of the characters have cameo roles in this novel, but I didn’t feel I’d missed out by not having read any of their stories yet.
Henry shows up at the soon-to-be open offices of Ellery Cramer, Attorney at Law, and is clearly not happy at being there. With him is Galen Henderson, a very attractive and personable young man who explains that Henry is very likely going to be accused – wrongfully – of murder, and asks Jackson and Ellery if they’ll take on his case. Henry served almost a decade in the military but was recently railroaded out with a dishonourable discharge, and this, together with the fact that his brother runs an extremely successful (and legitimate) porn business, lessens Henry’s chances of a fair hearing. Cases like his – where prejudice is likely to prevent justice being done – are exactly the reason Ellery and Jackson have branched out on their own, and even though Henry behaves like a total dick, it’s obvious to both of them that he’s hiding something big and that beneath all the bluster, he’s pretty scared.
Henry is also pretty banged-up following a fight with Scott, aka Martin Sampson, a former Johnnies model who turned out to have been a nasty piece of work. Following his discharge, Henry – who is pretty deep in the closet – returned home only to be thrown out by his parents, and has travelled to Sacramento to ask his brother Davy (aka Dex) for help. Henry and Davy have never been close, and Henry obviously disapproves of what his brother and his husband do for a living (and also obviously disapproves of the fact his brother even has a husband!), but Davy gives him a place to stay and pays him to help out around the place. When Sampson was caught trying to deal drugs among the models at the apartment, Henry got into a fight with him – and over a week later, Sampson is found dead in the building’s dumpster. There’s no question things are looking bad for Henry, but as Jackson and Ellery start digging, it becomes clear that someone’s out to frame him for murder, that Sampson had somehow ended up in the middle of a drug war… and that a blast from Jackson and Ellery’s past might just be back to haunt them.
As before, Amy Lane has created a fabulous blend of mystery, suspense and romance with a healthy dose of humour and snark thrown in. The plot is intriguing and well-constructed, but the story’s real strength lies in its characters and the relationships that develop between them. Jackson’s take-no-crap attitude is just what Henry needs and I loved the way Jackson gradually gains his trust and helps Henry start to get his life back on track.
Jackson Rivers is an extraordinary individual. Apart from the fact he’s survived more shootings, concussions, knife-wounds and attempts to kill him than anyone has a right to, he’s smart, sarcastic, has very few fucks to give and is very damaged. He’s been through so much in his thirty-odd years, things which would probably have broken someone less strong and determined, yet still has the wherewithal to care deeply about injustice and is driven to help those who can’t, for whatever reason, help themselves. All that said, he’s no saint. He loves Ellery deeply and knows the feeling is reciprocated, but there’s still a little part of himself, deep down, that thinks he’s not worth loving or caring about, and that little bit makes him careless of himself. His deep-seated fear that one day, Ellery will wise up and realise he isn’t worth the effort leads him to… mislead Ellery about certain things, which doesn’t go over well. Ellery ‘gets’ Jackson on an intrinsic level and knows all too well how hard it is for Jackson to admit weakness, but with Jackson’s reticence only exacerbating Ellery’s fears for his health and safety, there is one almighty explosion in the offing –and when it happens it’s shocking and probably the most heart-wrenching moment in the book.
But these two are solid, and I loved watching them talk things through and come up with a way forward. For possibly the first time, Jackson comes to truly understand the dangers he’s facing, and Ellery realises he has some changes to make as well. For all Jackson’s swagger and snark and Ellery’s cool reserve, these two are a perfect fit and I’m so glad that this is a mature relationship where the people involved communicate and compromise in order to make things work, even though – for Jackson especially – talking about his problems is akin to having root canal without anaesthetic.
There’s a large secondary cast here, including the guys from Johnnies and the people who are part of Jackson and Ellery’s extended ‘chosen’ family – Jade and Mike, Kaden and his family, Lucy Satan, AJ, Crystal, Billy-Bob, Burton and Ernie – and I especially enjoyed the scene at the end when Jackson and Ellery host a party to celebrate the opening of their new business, and Jackson is completely oblivious to the degree to which he inspires love and loyalty in all the people there to celebrate with them – and the degree to which Ellery is proud of him because of it.
Fish on a Bicycle is an absorbing instalment in what has become one of my favourite series. The main storyline pulled me in from the start, and the relationship between Jackson and Ellery continues to strengthen despite the bumpy road they’re travelling together. Fans of the series will be pleased with this update on how our guys are doing, and will also be happy to know that there are more books to come.
Note: The last 15% of the digital edition is a short story about what happened when Lucy Satan came to visit.
Readers should be aware that there are mentions of childhood sexual abuse in this story.