Unstable Connections (Valor & Doyle #3) by Nicky James

unstable connections

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Missing children are reappearing, and ties to a thirty-year-old cold case can’t be ignored.

Between his shaky, brand-new relationship with reformed office playboy Detective Aslan Doyle, his sister’s case going from cold to hot overnight, his father insisting on being involved, and his boss breathing down his neck, Detective Quaid Valor is on edge.

The stress of the case is impacting Quaid’s whole life. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and every time he and Aslan are together, he is overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, which threaten to ruin the one good thing he has. Aslan’s patience seems unending until something happens to turn his life upside down too.

Can their relationship survive the personal and professional pressures they’re facing, or will it crash and burn?

Between media rumors and unstable connections, Quaid and his team need to work quickly to piece together a complicated case before more children fall victim to their unknown serial kidnapper. Maybe once everything is solved, Aslan and Quaid will have time to work on their rocky relationship and find stable ground once again.

Rating: A

Wow – that was intense! This latest instalment in Nicky James’ Valor and Doyle series had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish; Unstable Connections is another compelling read that once again weaves together an absolutely gripping mystery plot with the continuing development of the relationship between the leads who, at the end of Elusive Relations, agreed they wanted more from each other than just sex, and are now a couple.

This series needs to be read in order so as to fully understand the relationship dynamics, and while each of the previous books has featured a self-contained mystery, certain overarching plotlines that have been bubbling along in the background reach a conclusion here, so this is not the place to jump in. Oh, and Spoilers Ahoy!

At the end of the previous book, the author dropped one helluva bombshell when eight-year-old Lili Vacari, who had been missing for four months, suddenly reappeared – and was carrying the backpack belonging to Quaid’s sister, who was abducted thirty years earlier. This news – naturally – hits Quaid incredibly hard, and sends him deep down a rabbit hole to the point of obsession; he’s not eating or sleeping well, he’s at his desk more often than not, and his colleagues are becoming concerned for him. It’s his partner, Eden, who finally calls in the big guns – Aslan – but while he’s just as concerned, he’s not sure how much more he can do. He knows Quaid and how much this case means to him, and is doing his absolute best to provide as much support as he can. He encourages Quaid to eat and sleep, offers the best type of distraction – sex – and someone to bounce ideas off… but he knows there are lines he can’t – and shouldn’t – cross. Quaid’s a grown man, Aslan isn’t his keeper, and he’s not about to torpedo their relationship by “taking a stance on Juniper”. He does, however, manage to drag Quaid away from the office on this particular Saturday – his birthday – long enough to get some sleep and get spruced up for dinner with his dad. Aslan is a bit nervous about meeting Abraham Valor in a social setting and as his son’s boyfriend; the two of them know each other by sight and reputation of course, but unfortunately for Aslan, his reputation as the department playboy means Valor Sr. sees him as someone else who might hurt Quaid. But after some initial frostiness, things settle and they begin to enjoy their meal – then a call from Quaid’s partner Eden throws another rock into the pond. Another missing little girl has just been found in the same location as Lily – and there’s no way this is a coincidence. Somehow the disappearances of these three little girls – Juniper, thirty years ago, Lily, and now Evelyn Rice – have to be connected, but how?

I’m not going to say any more, only that the author pulls it all together brilliantly as Aslan, Quaid and his colleagues in the MPU slowly begin to piece together the full picture by combining new information with everything Quaid has gained over years of painstaking research into his sister’s case. Juniper’s disappearance has been the framework for Quaid’s entire career; he followed his father’s footsteps into the police force and then became a detective in the Missing Persons Unit with the aim of preventing other families from going through what his did, and to be able to continue to investigate his sister’s disappearance with a view to getting some answers and closure for his dad.

Quaid’s tunnel vision has not only got him into hot water with his boss, who is close to pulling him off the case, it’s also causing problems in his fledgling relationship with Aslan. They’ve spent hardly any time together since deciding to give a relationship a try, but fortunately for Quaid, Aslan is a good guy who knows how much this case means to Quaid and is doing his absolute best to support him through it. Still, it’s hard to watch Quaid running himself into the ground – and to see what being so stressed out is doing to him psychologically. Aslan knows Quaid’s ex did a real number on him and seriously damaged his self-esteem, and knows that isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, but this case is also confirming just how many of Quaid’s insecurities and feelings of inadequacy can be traced back to Juni’s abduction when he was just six years old; how his fears of abandonment all stem from being pretty much forgotten in all the furore that surrounded it and then the breakdown of his family when his mother left a few months later. Aslan knows how much Quaid fears not being enough, that he believes that showing vulnerability is unattractive and that his neediness will drive Aslan away – but he’s prepared to wait out the storm because he’s recognised that what he has with Quaid – and the man himself – is worth it. But it’s not going to be easy.

While everything in Quaid’s life has been turned upside down, Aslan is also having a tough time balancing life and work as he and his partner Torin Fox find themselves juggling almost more cases than they can handle. I liked the realistic approach here; Aslan might want to drop everything to help Quaid, but he can’t because he has his own job to do, and to have it otherwise would have stretched my creduilty a bit too far. The pressure they’re both under is palpable and the author does a fantastic job of building the tension throughout this story; there’s little let up, and even when Quaid and Aslan do get some alone time, there’s a constant sense of unease, especially on Quaid’s part, as he allows his insecurities to start to get the better of him. And then, out of the blue, comes something with the potential to shatter Aslan’s world, too – no spoilers, but your heart will be in your throat and if you’ve got any nails left by this point, you won’t have many left after!

There are a number of other interesting relationships in the story, principally Quaid’s with his dad, which has so far seemed loving and solid, but is here revealed to have been built on some pretty shaky foundations. Abraham Valor’s guilt over what happened to his daughter is buried deep and has never been addressed – he and Quaid never talk about Juniper – and some of the effects of that guilt and its long denial are quite ugly.

I loved the way Quaid’s colleagues – his partner Eden and two other MPU detectives, Allison Bright (Torin’s crush – watching him flounder like a schoolboy trying to ask her on a date is so cute!) and Erik Travolta – rally round with support, and even Costa Ruiz, the IT specialist who, in the previous book, came across as a homophobic dickhead, turns out to be a good guy in the end; maybe he’s never going to go on a Pride march, but he and Quaid establish a good working relationship peppered with snarky banter, and there’s the sense that they might actually come to like each other one day.

Unstable Connections further cements the Valor and Doyle Mysteries as an all-time favourite series, and will undoubtedly be making an appearance on my Best of 2022 list. The plotting is tight, the pacing is swift and relentless and Nicky James does a fantastic job of wrapping up all the plotlines she’s seeded throughout. This events of this story really put Valor and Doyle’s romantic relationship to the test, and while they clearly still have a way to go, there’s every indication that they’ll get there. Plus, I’m a sucker for the player-falls-hard-and-forever trope, and Aslan shows himself to be boyfriend material of the highest calibre.

So it’s on to the DIK shelf for this one – and looking ahead to January 2023 and the release of book four, Inevitable Disclosure. It can’t come soon enough!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.