Desert Isle Keeper
Spoiler alert: The Community books need to be read in order. Do not read this review if you have not read Insight first.
Earlier this year I reviewed the first book in The Community series, Insight, and my major complaint was that it was a bit too busy. Mr. Hassell spent a good portion of it on world building, and not enough time developing the romance between Nate and Trent. Fortunately, the effort spent on the setting pays big dividends in Oversight, in which the balance between paranormal, romance and thriller is perfect, and the story moves at a fast and enjoyable clip. It’s sexy, slightly creepy, and ends on a cliffhanger – but if you’ve made it this far, there’s no way you aren’t chomping at the bit for the last book, Sightlines. Book two picks up right where the first left off, and it’s a seamless transition into Holden Payne’s world. This time out, we know more about the Community (an organization that finds, nurtures and protects individuals with paranormal gifts), and with the death of Beck at the end of Insight, it seems the Community is once again a safe haven for its members. But is it?
Holden Payne is part-owner and manager of Evolution, a LGBT dance club that caters to the psych community. The privileged son of Community founder, Richard Payne, he’s rich, powerful, and ready and willing to use his gifts as an empath to read and influence the people in his life. But when Oversight begins, his dad needs a fall guy for Beck’s crimes, and Holden is an easy target. Theo and Jericho are dead, Chase (and other psychs) are missing, and the Community is anxious to allay the fears of its members. Holden, frustrated by his father’s treatment and caught in a compromising position, can do little more than agree when Payne tells him he’s installing Sixtus Rossi, a guard from the Farm, to oversee security at Evolution – and babysit Holden.
Richard Payne chose Sixtus because of his loyalty to the Community, and more importantly, because he’s immune to psychic abilities – and therefore presumably, Holden. Holden’s opposite in almost every way, Six is a big, tattooed, lumbersexual with a noticeable lack of charm (and empathy) and is more interested in ensuring Evolution is a safe place for psychs and voids (those without psychic powers) than endearing himself to Holden. Holden tries to charm him anyway, and when he fails – because, DUH, Six is impervious to him – they settle into a tense and fraught working relationship. Six keeps Evolution safe, and Holden… well, he’s not quite sure who he is anymore or that the Community is the benevolent organization it purports to be.
Once Holden starts to have doubts, and his friend Elijah suggests a more sinister reason for Chase’s disappearance and the deaths of Jericho and Theo, Mr. Hassell switches gears. All the slow and detailed world building in Insight (which frustrated me), pays off – because once Holden starts digging, the revelations come hard and fast, each more disturbing than the last. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep up and see just where we – and Holden – are being led. I loved the pacing this time out, and once Mr. Hassell hits the gas, he never lets up. Holden begins to fit all the puzzle pieces together, and the picture that emerges is creepier and more disturbing than he’d guessed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Community and Holden’s investigation are only one part of this wholly entertaining story. As Holden begins to uncover secrets related to the Community and his father, his attention inevitably turns to Six – his father’s inside man. What does Six know about the Farm where’s he’s worked for the last decade? Does he know why members are disappearing?
After a rough start, Holden keeps his distance from Six. Despite the latter’s inability to articulate his thoughts and feelings with any finesse, he seems to have an uncanny ability to see through Holden’s bullshit and insecurities, and his honesty both scares and tempts Holden. He also can’t help feeling attracted to him, even though Six appears immune to his charms. When Holden accuses Six of following him, Six doesn’t deny it, instead telling Holden he’s ensuring no one else is tailing him – and invites him back to his apartment.
When Six was a boy, he was picked up for stealing. Instead of handing him over to the authorities, the Community tried him and ordered him to the Farm for reprogramming. Holden was with his father when they decided Six’s fate, and he’s never forgotten the connection he felt to the boy when he was led away. Unbeknownst to Holden, Six never forgot him or that he felt a similar connection. Once Holden and Six are alone in the apartment, neither is exactly sure what’s happening between them. Holden is attracted to Six (and fairly certain Six is attracted to him too) – but he works for the Community and Richard; Six wants Holden, but he’s frustrated by his inability to read Holden and his awkwardness articulating his attraction.
The tension is thick as Holden tries to seduce Six for information and quickly realizes his attraction already goes way beyond lust. It’s a nice little slow burn scene as they tease and taunt each other and slowly work each other up. Holden knows he has romantic feelings for Six, and Six… well as the scene unfolds, we learn a bit more about this gentle giant and reader, if you haven’t already fallen for him, get ready. Their back and forth quickly turns explicit and Holden gets to work turning Six inside out. It’s naughty, passionate and hot – and though their chemistry is scorching, there’s something so sweet about how Six slowly wrecks Holden too.
The afternoon in Six’s apartment leaves Holden bewildered. He wants Six for more than sex, but he isn’t sure he can trust him. We don’t suffer any of the same doubts – Six is clearly and obviously into Holden, and though we don’t know all his secrets, we believe in him. Ultimately, the relationship – and Six’s backstory – moves Holden closer to the truth about the Community, and when Six’s past is revealed, Holden realizes he’s fallen in love with him.
Mr. Hassell deftly integrates the burgeoning relationship between Hilden and Six into the paranormal mystery/thriller, and by the time the story concludes, these two have fallen hard for each other. It’s remarkable how smoothly the author balances the romantic and suspenseful elements of this story, and I never felt as though one detracted from the other. The relationship and mystery advance at a fast pace, but the emotions and the plot are both complex and compelling. I didn’t believe I could ever like or love Holden when Insight concluded, yet the author not only redeems him, but pairs him with his complete (and sexy) opposite. Six and Holden together comprise one of my favorite Hassell pairings, and demonstrate – again – that he’s a master of the opposites attract trope.
Oversight is a terrific read; the world building is fantastic, and the cliffhanger ending left me satisfied, but anxious to finally discover just what’s happening in the Community. I can’t wait for the conclusion in book three.