Desert Isle Keeper
Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.
Wow. I thought Misdirection, the previous book in this series was a tough read; I should have known Gregory Ashe wasn’t finished tying my insides up in knots and putting North and Shaw (and me!) through the emotional wringer. It always hurts to see a beloved character (or characters) having a tough time, and in Redirection, the author continues to shine an unforgiving spotlight on the problems that have dogged North and Shaw’s personal (romantic) relationship, at the same time as they’re trying to solve a mystery that hits VERY close to home.
I put a spoiler warning at the top of this review, so if you haven’t read Misdirection, and you read farther than this, on your own head be it! At the end of that book, North and Shaw realised that they needed to take a break from being a couple and agreed to go back to being ‘just friends’. This decision was prompted by a number of things; a lot of unresolved issues on North’s part that relate to his upbringing and his marriage have bled into his relationship with Shaw, while Shaw was taking North for granted and failing to see that things were becoming very one-sided, from deciding which cases they took, to when and how they had sex.
A few months on, and the guys are still keeping to their ‘friends’ agreement – except that they’re friends with benefits, something which is obviously more of a problem for Shaw than it is for North. Shaw is doing his best not to rock the boat or ask questions about where they stand, but it’s been a few months since they broke up and there’s no sign of anything changing or of North being ready to talk – and Shaw knows he can’t carry on this way indefinitely.
So things between them are already balanced on a knife edge when a grenade is thrown into the mix. Dick Laguerre – the father of North’s estranged (though not yet ex-) husband, Tucker – walks into the Borealis offices and tells them that Tucker has been arrested for murder, and asks them to help to prove his innocence. Shaw is – quite rightly – cautious; not just because Tucker is a total shit who physically and emotionally abused North for years, but also because of the conflict of interest – whatever they find out probably wouldn’t be admissible in court – but North bluntly reminds him of all the times they’ve taken the cases Shaw wanted to take – Matty Fenmore, the Slasher, the romance convention – and won’t hear any objections. They’re taking this one.
The murder victim was Rik Slooves, a former – and married – professor at Choteau College who, during North and Shaw’s time there, screwed his way through most of the young male students, including Tucker and some of their other friends. After he returned to his wife and son, Slooves played the happily married ultra-conservative straight guy, pushing a vehement anti-gay agenda while continuing to fuck around with guys on the side. Tucker had been one of those men – and after a night spent together at a seedy motel, Tucker wakes to find Slooves dead in bed beside him, his head bashed in with one of his (Tucker’s) golf clubs. The evidence is overwhelmingly against Tucker – but even after everything he put North through, North finds it hard to believe he’s guilty of murder.
And as he and Shaw start digging, it begins to seem as though someone is trying to frame Tucker. Incriminating photos of Slooves with other men found in Tucker’s car, Slooves estranged wife behaving strangely, his son arriving in town out of the blue, a sex video, and information that Slooves involved some of North and Shaw’s college friends in his shady insider-dealing… it all adds up to a complex, confusing case in which suspicion shifts rapidly from one person to the next, and there are more people with good reason to want to get rid of Slooves than one could reasonably shake a stick at.
And somewhere, pulling strings in the background is the despicable not-uncle Ronnie, out for revenge on North and Shaw after North got him arrested following Ronnie’s theft of proprietary technology from Aldrich Acquisitions.
Redirection is, even by Gregory Ashe standards (!) – a tough read. Horrible things happen to, well, pretty much everyone, and watching North falling apart, seeing the way his relationship with Shaw has fractured so badly is HARD. I’m a fast reader and when I’m reading something as good as this, I want to power through it, but the tension in this story is at such a pitch that I had to force myself to take a break every so often and remind myself to breathe! But all that tension is balanced by moments of incredible sweetness and humour, moments where North and Shaw slip effortlessly into their ridiculous banter and feel like ‘them’ again, and when their love for each other comes through as strongly as ever.
Making Tucker the prime suspect in a murder investigation and a major character in this book was an interesting choice – because let’s face it, if you’ve followed the series this far, you’re likely to want to lock him up and throw away the key! And yet… Gregory Ashe somehow – deviously, brilliantly – had me questioning those feelings. North is convinced Tucker is still the same manipulative piece of shit he always was, but the Tucker we’re presented with here seems to have changed – or to be trying to – for the better, and Mr. Ashe skilfully plays with our conceptions so that we’re never quite sure who is seeing the truth of the situation. And then we meet Tucker’s parents, people who treat North well and make him feel more welcome and loved than his own family ever did – and it’s easy to understand why North stayed with Tucker for so long, and why, when he’s so exhausted and confused and scared, he’s so tempted to take the easy path back into a life he knows.
The secondary cast includes a handful of new characters as well as some we’ve met before. I was pleased to see Jadon again and continue to hope he’s going to find someone some day; his back and forth with North is entertaining and even though North is often outright rude, it’s clear there’s a mutual respect there, beneath it all. North’s dad makes another appearance, and my heart broke – again – for North at the way the old man treats him.
As always with a Gregory Ashe book, there are a lot of moving parts, and – as always – he does a great job of combining a gripping, high-stakes mystery with the character-driven elements of the story. Redirection is an intense, insightful exploration of a relationship-in-trouble that will make you want to laugh, cry, bang North and Shaw’s heads together and throw things, possibly all at the same time. But rest assured, by the time you reach the end, emotionally battered and bruised, it will have been worth it. Book four, Codirection, can’t arrive soon enough.