Triangulation (Borealis Investigations #2) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After a recent case with a treacherous client, North and Shaw are ready to go back to work building Borealis Investigations. They’re also ready to go back to dodging their feelings for each other, with neither man ready to deal with the powerful emotions the Matty Fennmore case stirred up. Everything is getting back to normal when their secretary asks for help: her girlfriend’s boss has gone missing.

Shep Collins runs a halfway house for LGBTQ kids and is a prominent figure in St. Louis’s gay community. When he disappears, however, dark truths begin to emerge about Shep’s past: his string of failed relationships, a problem with disappearing money, and his work, years before, as one of the foremost proponents of conversion therapy.

When Shep’s body turns up at the halfway house, the search for a missing person becomes the search for a murderer.

As North and Shaw probe for answers, they find that they are not the only ones who have come looking for the truth about Shep Collins. Their investigation puts them at odds with the police who are working the same case, and in that conflict, North and Shaw find threads leading back to the West End Slasher—the serial killer who almost took Shaw’s life in an alley seven years before. As the web of an ancient conspiracy comes to light, Shaw is driven to find answers, and North faces what might be his last chance to tell Shaw how he really feels.

Rating: A-

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.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Reasonable Doubt (Detectives Hazard and Somerset #5) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After almost 20 years, Emery Hazard finally has the man he loves. But things with his boyfriend and fellow detective, John-Henry Somerset, are never easy, and they’ve been more complicated lately for two reasons: Somers’s ex-wife and daughter. No matter what Hazard does, he can’t seem to get away from the most important women in his boyfriend’s life.

While Hazard struggles with his new reality (changing dirty diapers, just to start), a bizarre murder offers a distraction. John Oscar Walden, the leader of a local cult, is found dead by the police, and the case falls to Hazard and Somers. The investigation takes the two detectives into the cult’s twisted relationships and the unswerving demands of power and faith.

But the deeper Hazard looks into the cult, the deeper he must look into his own past, where belief and reason have already clashed once. And as Hazard struggles to protect the most vulnerable of Walden’s victims, he uncovers a deeper, more vicious plot behind Walden’s murder, and Hazard finds himself doing what he never expected: racing to save the killer.

Only, that is, if Somers doesn’t need him to babysit.

Rating: Narration: B; Content: A-

Although I’ve only reviewed the first of the Hazard and Somerset audiobooks, Pretty Pretty Boys, I’ve been following the series (in both print and audio), and have now reached book five, Reasonable Doubt, which sees some major changes taking place in the lives of our heroes. And some things – like their seeming inability to read one another – staying very much the same.

Please note that there will be spoilers for the earlier books in the series in this review.

At the end of the last book, Guilt by Association, fans of the series who were rooting for Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset to tell each other what we’ve all known since book one – that they’re stupid in love with each other – finally got their wish. It’s been a difficult road; these two are masters of the art of not saying what they really mean and there’s enough baggage between them to fill a whole fleet of trucks – but at long last they managed to get onto the same page and now, a few months later, are living together as a couple. They continue to be partners at work as well – (I confess to wondering if that would actually be permitted) – and their latest case, the murder of the leader of a religious cult, is one that stirs up some extremely dark and painful memories for Hazard.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Shaw and North are best friends, private detectives, and in danger of losing their agency. A single bad case, followed by crippling lawsuits, has put them on the brink of closing shop. Until, that is, a client walks into their Benton Park office.

Matty Fennmore is young, blond, and beautiful, and he’s in danger. When he asks for Shaw and North’s help foiling a blackmail scheme, the detectives are quick to accept.

The conspiracy surrounding Matty runs deeper than Shaw and North expect. As they dig into the identity of Matty’s blackmailer, they are caught in a web that touches politicians, the local LGBT community, and the city’s police.

An attack on Matty drives home the rising stakes of the case, and Shaw and North must race to find the blackmailer before he can silence Matty. But a budding romance lays bare long-buried feelings between Shaw and North, and as their relationship splinters, solving the case may come at the cost of their friendship.

Rating: B+

Orientation is the first book in a new series of mysteries by Gregory Ashe, and in it, he introduces us to North McKinney and Kingsley Shaw Wilder Aldrich, who own and run a detective agency in St. Louis.  They’ve been friends – best friends – since college even though they couldn’t be more different.  North is from a blue collar family – his father was a construction worker and North himself worked on a fair few building sites before college – while Shaw was born with a whole set of silver spoons in his mouth, and dropped out of college after he was the victim of a hate crime that left him badly injured and killed his then (and first ever) boyfriend.  Even though the perpetrator was subsequently arrested and imprisoned, Shaw has never been sure the right man was convicted, and that – and his experience as a victim of crime – is one of the things that prompted him to become a private investigator.

The author very quickly establishes the nature and strength of the relationship between the two men.  North is gruff, down to earth and often treats Shaw with the kind of affectionate exasperation usually afforded to siblings, while Shaw is inquisitive, bright and enthusiastic with a kind of wide-eyed innocence about him unusual for a man in his mid-twenties.  They’ve got a bit of an odd-couple dynamic going on (Shaw is the ridiculously messy one while North likes things just so), and when they’re working or in a tight spot their banter is so smooth that they practically finish each other’s sentences.  They may be opposites in many ways, but they’re on the same mental wavelength and it’s clear that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another.  It’s also clear they’ve got it pretty bad for each other and have spent years hiding it; North is married (not too happily as becomes apparent as the story progresses) and thinks Shaw only sees him as an obnoxious brother, while Shaw is still struggling, almost eight years after the attack, to trust a man enough to go out on a date with him; and even were that not the case, North is off-limits and doesn’t think of him that way anyway.

The firm they run together, Borealis Investigations, hit a rough patch a few months earlier following a case which saw North shooting a suspect in order to save Shaw’s life. Not only has North’s PI license has been suspended pending appeal, the suspect then dragged him into a costly lawsuit. They haven’t had a case in months, but things start to take an upturn when an attractive, nervous young man makes his way into the office looking for Shaw and asks for help.  North is immediately on his guard, and not just because he sees straight away that the guy has the sort of lost-puppy thing going on that will appeal to Shaw’s protective instincts – and doesn’t like it.  When Matty Fennmore haltingly explains he’s sought them out because he’s being blackmailed, North  – quite sensibly – doesn’t want to go near the case and suggests Matty should go to the police.  But when Matty goes into detail – telling them how he’s been so scared of coming out because of his ultra-religious family and how he can’t go to the police because that will make everything public and his parents will find out –  North knows he’s lost the battle.  Shaw is clearly smitten as well as outraged on Matty’s behalf and reminds North that they need clients and that people like Matty are why they started Borealis in the first place, to help people nobody else can or will help.  North is forced to admit that Shaw is right about one thing – they do need the work.  But he doesn’t have to like it.

As their investigation progresses, North and Shaw gradually realise that there’s more going on than a single act of blackmail, and that the recordings are being used to control and manipulate important people across the city. When Matty is attacked and their main suspect turns up dead it’s clear that the blackmailer is becoming desperate and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect their ‘investment’. But potentially damning information from an unexpected quarter suddenly turns everything on its head and throws a live grenade into the middle of Shaw and North’s friendship which leaves them both devastated. Will they be able to solve the case, repair their tattered relationship… and come out of it alive?

Mr. Ashe has penned an intriguing, gritty mystery which progresses at a good pace and features some colourful and intriguing supporting characters. But as with his earlier Detectives Hazard and Somerset series, the big draw is the likeable, complex but flawed leads and the complicated relationship between them that runs a true gamut of emotion and oozes UST like there’s no tomorrow. There’s obviously a great deal of affection there and the guys know each other extremely well, but there are some things about each other they’ve got completely wrong – and I don’t just mean because neither of them has twigged how the other feels about him. Although the story is told in dual PoVs, Orientation focuses a little more on Shaw than on North, on showing readers who he is, how the trauma he suffered has affected him and on exploring his feelings for North and their relationship. We get similar insights from North’s perspective, too, although we don’t learn as much about his life outside of his work; up until a certain point, we only know he’s married, he’s not happy and that he’s keeping something – something big – from Shaw. The author drip feeds various pieces of information about their lives together – the attack Shaw barely survived, the shooting that may have sunk North’s career, and their friendship over the years – but I don’t think he’s given us the full picture yet and I can’t wait to find out more.

The blackmailer plot is wrapped up by the end of the novel, so it works as a standalone although the final chapter sets up what I suspect may be an overarching plotline. I continue to be impressed with the quality of Mr. Ashe’s writing, his insight into character and motivation, and his ability to create memorable characters you can’t help but want to spend time with while at the same time wanting to bang their heads together! North and Shaw have just the sort of angsty, screwed-up relationship that I can’t resist and I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment of their story. Orientation is an absorbing start to a promising new series and a great place to jump in with this author if you’ve never read his work before.

TBR Challenge: Paternity Case (Hazard and Somerset #3) by Gregory Ashe

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

It’s almost Christmas, and Emery Hazard finds himself face to face with his own personal nightmare: going on a double date with his partner—and boyhood crush—John-Henry Somerset. Hazard brings his boyfriend; Somers brings his estranged wife. Things aren’t going to end well.

When a strange call interrupts dinner, however, Hazard and his partner become witnesses to a shooting. The victims: Somers’s father, and the daughter of a high school friend. The crime is inexplicable. There is no apparent motive, no connection between the victims, and no explanation for how the shooter reached his targets.

Determined to get answers, Hazard and Somers move forward with their investigation in spite of mounting pressure to stop. Their search for the truth draws them into a dark web of conspiracy and into an even darker tangle of twisted love and illicit desire. And as the two men come face to face with the passions and madness behind the crime, they must confront their own feelings for each other—and the hard truths that neither man is ready to accept.

Rating: A

Paternity Case is the third in Gregory Ashe’s series of novels featuring two detectives based in the small Missouri town of Wahredua, Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset.  These are gritty, complex stories that are practically impossible to put down once started; the mysteries are twisty and really well-conceived but at the heart of each book – and the series – is the complicated, fucked-up relationship between the two principals, a pair of stubborn, emotionally constipated individuals with a dark and  painful shared history that stretches back twenty years.

While each of the six books in the series boasts a self-contained mystery, there is also an overarching storyline that runs throughout, so I’d strongly recommend starting at the beginning with book one, Pretty Pretty Boys.  There’s probably enough backstory in this book for a newcomer, but if you do jump in here, you’ll miss out on a lot of relationship development and exploration of Hazard and Somerset’s history – which is absolutely integral to the series as a whole.  Gregory Ashe knows how to create sexual tension so thick it can be cut with a knife; this is slow-burn romance at its finest – and possibly most frustrating! – so don’t go into this series expecting a quick HFN/HEA.

A little bit of background. Detective Emery Hazard moves back to his small home town of Wahredua after being fired from his job in St. Louis (for reasons we don’t yet know).  The town doesn’t hold many good memories for him; the only openly gay kid at school, he didn’t have many friends and was badly bullied by three boys who made his life a misery for years.  Of these, one is now dead, another is a broken down mess, and the third… Hazard doesn’t know what happened to him, the charming, popular, movie-star handsome John-Henry Somerset, son of one of the town’s wealthiest families – until he turns up at his new station and meets his new partner.

Yep.

The first book sees Hazard and Somerset – who now goes by Somers – starting to work though the issues that lie between them, although it’s going to take more than an apology and the new, grudging, respect Hazard slowly develops for his new partner’s ability as a detective, and Somers’ admiration for Hazard’s intellect and his ability to work his way through complicated puzzles and construct solutions, to fix things between them.  Somers is almost desperate to prove to Hazard that he’s changed – and he really has – since they were in college, but Hazard is cautious and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him that isn’t work-related.  Somers is garrulous and quick to tease the much more serious Hazard, and on the surface they’ve got a bit of an ‘odd couple’ thing going on; but underneath, it’s all much darker and more complicated as the feelings that sparked between them twenty years earlier come roaring back to life.

For two books, readers have watched them struggle to adjust to their working partnership and ignore the intense mutual attraction that neither wants to acknowledge.  They’ve had their heated moments, but are both in deep denial; Somers has been trying (unsuccessfully) to work things out with his estranged wife (with whom he has a two-year-old daughter), while Hazard has embarked on a relationship with a gorgeous (and much younger) grad-student, Nico Flores. Both men are involved with someone who just doesn’t ‘get’ them or understand their dedication to their job or loyalty to each other, especially Nico, who can’t understand how Hazard can bear to work with Somers considering their history.

Paternity Case opens as Hazard and Somers are getting ready to go out – on a double-date, of all things; Hazard and Nico, Somers and his almost-ex-wife, Cora.  The reader already knows this is one of the worst ideas in history and a train-wreck in waiting, but before things can get too uncomfortable, Somers receives a phone call from his father, who practically orders him to the family home during the Somerset’s annual pre-Christmas party.  It’s not a case, but Somers insists Hazard accompanies him anyway, and they arrive to find a very drunk – or stoned – old guy wearing nothing but a Santa hat in the middle of the Somerset’s living room.  As Somers and Hazard try to find out what on earth is going on, the lights go out and shots are fired, one killing a young woman and five of the others landing in Glenn Somerset’s chest but somehow not killing him.

Naked-Santa is deemed to be responsible and is taken into custody, but both Hazard and Somers are immediately seeing things that don’t add up. And when they arrive at the hospital to discover that the suspect has been shot and killed by another detective, it ratchets up suspicions they’ve held for a while now that one of their colleagues is on the take.  The hints of political corruption and intrigue that have appeared in the earlier books now become something more solid, and when Hazard and Somers are ordered to drop their investigation they smell more than just one rat.  Their boss insists there’s nothing to investigate, but neither man buys that; for Somers this is personal – he might not get along with Glenn Somerset, but the man is still his father – and Hazard isn’t about to sit idly by and watch his partner self-destruct or put himself in danger without someone to watch his back.

While both characters get equal billing in the series title, the previous two books have focused a little more on Hazard as the main protagonist. Here, that focus shifts to Somers, and as he starts to unravel, readers are shown more of what lies beneath that gorgeous, wise-cracking exterior – a man who doesn’t like himself much and who is weighed down by the guilt of a terrible betrayal he wrought years ago.  Mr. Ashe very deftly delineates Somers’ toxic family situation, and his insight into the power dynamics that existed when Hazard and Somerset were kids is completely on the nose.  We see a different side to the normally personable, laid-back detective as the author peels away the layers to reveal  the loneliness lying at his core as he is forced to face up to some painful and unwelcome truths about his long-buried feelings, and to reach some significant conclusions as a result.

Both men are guarded and not easy to understand. They talk a lot – well, Somers does – but rarely – if ever – say what they mean, and right from the start, their conversations have been as much about what they don’t say as what they do. They’re both excellent detectives; Hazard is precise and logical while Somers has the kind of emotional intelligence that makes him a really good ‘people person’ – and yet they’re both blind when it comes to each other.  While the investigation is the focus of the plot, the intensity of the underlying love story permeates the book; these two are stupid in love but certain the other doesn’t feel the same, and the emotional punch the author delivers at the end is simply masterful.

The secondary cast is strongly-drawn, the plot is cleverly constructed and Gregory Ashe’s writing ranges from the vividly descriptive  –

At this time of year, when darkness came early, Warhedua looked like the last place of light and warmth in a burned-out world. Ahead of them, the sodium lights dropped away until the only thing illuminating the asphalt was the Interceptor’s headlights, bluish-white, the color of fresh snow if it had somehow transformed into light.

to the lyrical…

Love isn’t a choice. Love is collision. Love is catastrophe. Somers had thought he’d understood. He thought he’d known how dangerous those words were, he thought he’d sensed how deeply Emery Hazard had upset his life.

But he’d had no idea.

There are moments of observation and insight so sharp it’s almost painful, and the circumlocutory conversations that characterise Hazard and Somers’ interactions are both completely absorbing and a masterclass in how to say something without ever actually uttering the words.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll close by saying that if you’re a fan of m/m mysteries and romantic suspense, then you’re going to want to start on the Hazard and Somerset series right away.  I promise you’ll thank me later 😉

 

Pretty Pretty Boys (Hazard & Somerset #1) by Gregory Ashe (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

After Emery Hazard loses his job as a detective in Saint Louis, he heads back to his hometown–and to the local police force there. Home, though, brings no happy memories, and the ghosts of old pain are very much alive in Wahredua. Hazard’s new partner, John-Henry Somerset, had been one of the worst tormentors, and Hazard still wonders what Somerset’s role was in the death of Jeff Langham, Hazard’s first boyfriend.

When a severely burned body is discovered, Hazard finds himself drawn deeper into the case than he expects. Determining the identity of the dead man proves impossible, and solving the murder grows more and more unlikely. But as the city’s only gay police officer, Hazard is placed at the center of a growing battle between powerful political forces. To his surprise, Hazard finds an unlikely ally in his partner, the former bully. And as they spend more time together, something starts to happen between them, something that Hazard can’t–and doesn’t want–to explain.

The discovery of a second mutilated corpse, though, reveals clues that the two murders are linked, and as Hazard gets closer to answers, he uncovers a conspiracy of murder and betrayal that goes deeper–and closer to home–than he could ever expect.

Rating: Narration – B : Content – A-

Pretty Pretty Boys is the first book in Gregory Ashe’s six-book series about Missouri-based detectives Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset. I really enjoyed the story, which boasts a well-crafted, intricate mystery and combines it with the difficult, angsty relationship between the two men, who have known each other since boyhood and whose shared history is a complicated one. I’ll say right now though, that while there are romantic elements to the book, they’re low-key and mostly confined to some really delicious sexual tension between the leads, so if an HEA or HFN in every book is a must, I’m afraid you won’t find it here. We’re talking slow burn, with an emphasis on the slooooooooow – although reviews of later books lead me to believe that the guys get there eventually. Each instalment in the series takes place across a fairly short time-span, and the whole series only spans a few months, so it makes sense that the romantic side of things would take a few books to get going. Even though the wait is frustrating…

Anyway. For reasons listeners are not (yet) privy to, Detective Emery Hazard has been forced to quit his post in St. Louis. He’s offered the choice between being demoted to a desk job or keeping his shield and going somewhere else – and chooses the latter option, deciding to return to his home town of Wahredua – which he remembers as a dismal backwater – intent on finally discovering what drove his first boyfriend to commit suicide some fifteen years earlier. The place doesn’t hold many happy memories for him. The only openly gay kid in a small, insular town, he was tormented at school by a group of three boys, and he still bears the scars – both physical and emotional – of that bullying, so returning to Wahredua brings back all those memories and more. He knows one of his three persecutors is dead, and he soon discovers another is a wreck of a man… which leaves him wondering what happened to the third, the town’s golden-boy; the drop-dead gorgeous, charming and popular John-Henry Somerset.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.