Desert Isle Keeper
Gregory Ashe has become one of my favourite authors over the last year or so, and I’ve been longing to dive into Triangulation, the second book in his Borealis Investigations series ever since I turned the last page on the first book, Orientation, earlier this year. I’m addicted to the blend of well-constructed mystery, complex, dysfunctional characters and angsty, slow-burn romance I’ve found in his novels; the plotting is tight and full of twists and turns, the romantic chemistry is combustible and his writing is wonderfully assured, ranging from the vividly descriptive to the lyrical, from grin-inducing humour to the pointedly insightful.
Although the mystery central to Orientation (which should be read first) was wrapped up by the end, events contained therein continue to have repercussions throughout Triangulation, so there will be spoilers in this review.
Triangulation picks up a few months after the previous book ended, and sees Borealis Investigations on a much firmer footing than it was when we first met North and Shaw, thanks to an upturn in business following their recent success in apprehending a blackmailer and murderer. But the Fennmore case threw a ticking time-bomb into the middle the long-standing friendship between the two men, and the resulting wounds are still raw. Neither of them is ready to admit to the shift in their relationship or work out what it means, even Shaw, who normally loves to talk things through; and North… well he most definitely doesn’t want to go there.
So on the surface at least, things are pretty much back to normal. North grumbles and snarks his way through the days and Shaw is as upbeat and endearingly enthusiastic as ever. When their assistant, Pari, asks them to look into the disappearance of her girlfriend’s boss, an LGBTQ youth worker and prominent figure in the St. Louis gay community, North isn’t wild about taking the case, especially when he learns that the man in question, Shep Collins, used to administer conversion therapy to gay teenaged boys. But Pari’s girlfriend Chuck is distraught, and insists that Collins is a completely different man now; he’s out and married, the kids he works with love him and he sees his work now as a way of atoning for what he did in the past. North doesn’t want to take the case… but as a result of one of those typical North-and-Shaw roundabout not-conversations, ends up ungraciously agreeing to do so.
North and Shaw start digging for information, and from the outset, they’re confronted with differing accounts of who Collins was and conflicting stories about his last known movements. Nobody is telling the truth, even Chuck, who was worried enough about the man’s disappearance to hire Borealis to find him in the first place. But when Collins’ body is found in the trunk of her car, things escalate quickly and Chuck is arrested for murder. Determined to find out the truth, North and Shaw’s investigation leads them into direct conflict with members of St. Louis P.D.’s LGBT task force, and specifically with two of its detectives, whose interest in the case seems more focused on North and Shaw than on actually finding out who killed Shep Collins.
Running alongside the very cleverly plotted murder mystery are a number of other storylines which the author gradually pulls together with seemingly effortless skill. In Orientation, readers learned of the brutal attack which almost killed Shaw over seven years earlier, and of the fact that Shaw has never really believed the right man was convicted and imprisoned. In a surprise twist at the end, Shaw discovered some video footage of the attack which showed the licence plate of the car used by the so-called ‘West End Slasher’ and since then Shaw has been doing some investigating of his own. He has just received permission to visit the convicted man in prison – but when he goes to meet with him, Shaw is too late. The ‘Slasher’ died the previous night, and nobody is saying how.
And while all this is going on, North and Shaw are still dancing around their feelings for each other. They’ve been friends since college, and it was North who pulled Shaw back from the brink after the attack; they know each other inside out and backwards, they finish each other’s sentences, they know how to push each other’s buttons like nobody else, and they’ve spent practically every day together for the last eight years:
They were honest with each other—honest in ways that only people who have known each other for a long time, loved each other for a long time, can be. But what Shaw wanted to say, what he couldn’t quite put into words, was that the honesty between them was, in its own way, also a kind of lie. He wanted to tell North that their honesty glided across smooth water, but that there was an ocean of things below the surface, things they never said. He wanted to tell North that their honesty never went to the things they cared about most: each other.
The tangle of emotions that enmeshes North, Shaw and their complicated relationship is superbly written; their longing for one another is palpable and had my insides tied up in knots on several occasions. Shaw’s experiences have – unsurprisingly – left him with issues around trust and intimacy; North has finally taken steps to end his crumbling, abusive marriage, and is battling all sorts of inner demons he’s desperate to keep hidden. But with North newly single, the delicate balance in his and Shaw’s relationship is off kilter. Neither man has allowed themselves to think about the other in terms of anything other than friendship, but after eight years, their true feelings are starting to spill out and won’t be put back in the bottle.
There’s little I didn’t enjoy about this book. North and Shaw are compelling characters who, on the surface are opposites, but beneath the layers of smartass and snark, are wonderfully in tune, which makes for some truly fantastic banter. I liked the glimpses we were given of how their friendship began back in their college days, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cameo appearances by Wahredua’s finest (Hazard and Somerset) which drops some hints about where they might be headed in their next series. The one false note struck in the book – and I found this to be the case in Orientation as well – is the character of Pari, who is aggressive, rude and never seems to do any work. I’d have fired her if she worked for me!
I was completely engrossed by Triangulation from the first word to the last and raced through it in a couple of sittings. I should mention here that the novel ends on one doozy of a cliffhanger, although book three – Declination – is due out in October, so there’s not too long to wait. Fans of clever, gritty mysteries featuring complex characters and relationships should check out Borealis Investigations as soon as possible. I can’t imagine you’ll be sorry you did.