Desert Isle Keeper
Note: This review contains spoilers for the previous Borealis Investigations series.
North and Shaw are back in Indirection, the first book in Gregory Ashe’s new four part series Borealis: Without a Compass, which sees them moving into a new phase of their lives – as both romantic partners and partners in a growing, successful business. All the things I so loved about them in their first series – their crazy chemistry, their frequently hilarious (and frequently bonkers) banter, their great friendship and deeply-rooted affection – are still here, and it’s nice to see them (mostly) happy and in love while at the same time, they’re hitting the same speed-bumps we all hit when it comes to juggling the demands of work and home.
When we first met them in Orientation, their private investigation business – Borealis Investigations – was struggling. North had lost his PI license due to a complaint made against him, and work was thin on the ground. Things did start to pick up however, and they were doing better when, at the end of Declination, Shaw’s father hired them to conduct investigations for his company, and they’ve had as much work as they can handle ever since. This is exactly what they wanted – they’re turning a profit, they’re making a name for themselves … but the downside is that their personal relationship is suffering because North is working every hour God sends and Shaw is feeling a little bit left out as a result. (Poor Shaw is the victim of some very inventive cock-blocking here – which is all I’m going to say!)
He’s also not completely happy with the direction the business is headed. When he and North started Borealis, Shaw wanted to do something to help the LGBTQ+ community, to help people who often couldn’t get help elsewhere, and doing corporate work Isn’t really what he wants to do. So when the woman who runs Queer Expectations – a gay romance book convention – turns up with tales of threatening emails and begs for their help, Shaw is chomping at the bit to take the case and get out of their current rut of corporate drudgery. North isn’t wild about the idea – they’re slammed with other jobs and – but, well, he’s putty in Shaw’s hands, and of course they take the case.
As soon as they step into the hotel where the con is taking place, they’re plunged into a whole basket of crazy, from overenthusiastic and cosplaying fans to backstabbing authors. The whole thing is doing North’s head in, while Shaw loves it and wants to fanboy his favourite authors! – but they find it hard to get useful information out of anyone and aren’t convinced the whole thing isn’t going to turn out to be a massive waste of time. Until, that is, the convention’s headliner and bestselling author Scotty Carlson is poisoned during a panel, in front of a packed crowd.
Fingers are pointed and revelations come thick and fast as the number of suspects increases and several of the other authors suffer ‘accidents’; the pace is almost frenetic as North and Shaw start to dig up some unpleasant truths in what feels like an episode of Murder She Wrote on speed (but with sex and a lot more swearing!). I had no idea who the villain of the piece was – Mr. Ashe strews his red herrings around with gleeful abandon – but honestly, I was quite happy to sit back while North and Shaw did the heavy lifting and wait for them to figure it out because I was having so much damn fun reading it! They’re so well- attuned to each other that they work together like a well-oiled machine, and their roundabout conversations, where they go off at weird tangents, finish each other’s sentences and completely baffle everyone around them – are hilarious.
While the plot is huge fun, it’s also very meta. Setting the story at a romance convention gives the author a chance to poke some gentle (and not so gentle) fun at the archetypes and prejudices and entrenched views held about the romance genre, and a lot of the conversations about romance – and queer romance especially – are on topics that have been doing the rounds of the internet and social media for a while – which doesn’t in any way negate their relevance.
While North and Shaw are trying to find out who is behind the poisoning and other ‘accidents’, there’s another storyline bubbling along in the background, which was hinted at at the end of the pervious series when North’s slimy “uncle” Ronnie hinted he’d be asking North to do some stuff for him and strongly hinted it had something to do with Aldrich Acquisitions. Ronnie turns up again here and tells North he wants him to get some video or photographs of a man he knows is attacking young gay men. North wants nothing to do with Ronnie and wants to tell him to go to hell, but Shaw’s cooler head prevails, and he says they’ll do what Ronnie wants – while they figure out how to deal with him in the long term. We find out exactly what Ronnie is holding over North’s head here – and it’s not pretty. I’m guessing this will be the series’ overarching plotline – and that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
For all of the craziness surrounding the investigation, there are some lovely quiet and tender moments between North and Shaw that continue to show just how much they care for each other, and I like that even though they’re a couple now, and even though they’ve known each other for years, they still have things to learn about each other and about relationships.
I was pleased to see Pari toned down a bit in this book. I didn’t like her in the previous series – she was forever complaining about something and never seemed to do any work – here, she’s less shouty and actually proves herself to be a good friend at an important point in the story. Who knows, if this improvement continues, I might find myself actually liking her (gasp!). Jadon is back, too, and I can’t help hoping that perhaps he’ll find a special someone as well – after all he’s been through, he deserves it!
My one complaint is that at times there was just a bit too much to take in. There are a lot of suspects and a lot of moving parts to the mystery and I had to stop a couple of times and try to take stock of who was who and how A related to B and so on. But that’s all I can really think of that didn’t work for me in this one.
Clever and exciting, sweet, sexy and often very funny, Indirection marks a triumphant return for the Borealis Boys, and gets this new series off to a very strong start. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what Mr. Ashe has in store for them next.