Shaw and North have been best friends since college and together they run the private detective agency, Borealis Investigations. Business has been slow lately as North had his license suspended pending an investigation into a shooting that saved Shaw’s life. When blond, beautiful Matty Fennmore comes in looking to hire them, North is initially a bit cautious, but the men need the job. Matty is being blackmailed and he wants Shaw and North’s help tracking down the video that would reveal to his homophobic family that Matty is really gay.
As Shaw and North follow the investigation, things end up much more complex than they initially imagined. It turns out Matty isn’t the only one being blackmailed and the trail takes them through a BDSM club, a police investigation, a local drag queen, and more. It soon becomes clear that things are even more dangerous than they anticipated and lives are on the line.
The case is complicating things for Shaw and North personally as well. The men are best friends, but there is a deeper connection that neither man is ready to acknowledge. As they dig deeper into the case, their personal relationship begins to face stress as well. Now Shaw and North must fight not only to find out the blackmailer and keep themselves alive, but they also must fight for their friendship before they lose everything.
I have heard such great things about Gregory Ashe’s books that I eagerly grabbed Orientation, the first book in his new Borealis Investigation series. I must say that all the accolades are well deserved and I loved Ashe’s writing style. Orientation does a great job combining a really clever mystery plot with rich character development. I particularly enjoyed the way Ashe slowly unfolds the story elements, both on the mystery end, as well as between the characters. The pacing is so good and we get just the right information at the right time to make the story intense and engaging.
The mystery plot here is nicely twisty and keeps developing and growing as the story continues. What starts out as an attempt to track down some blackmail material turns into something much more complex. Everything becomes interconnected and I enjoyed watching Shaw and North put the pieces together. I liked seeing how these men’s minds worked, particularly Shaw’s. Shaw can come off a little flaky, sort of new age and a bit in his own world. But when we see him analyzing clues or thinking through the case, it is clear that he is really incredibly sharp. While there were a few elements here I could see coming, the way Ashe pulls everything together is still quite exciting and kept the mystery element fresh and engaging.
In addition to the more immediate case the men are solving, we also delve into Shaw’s past as seven years ago he was a victim of a killer known as the Slasher. While Shaw survived the attack, he still has emotional and physical scars from that experience and it has colored much about his life now. While the killer is behind bars, Shaw is skeptical that the police have the right man. Again, Ashe does a great job parsing out the information here and letting us see how this incident has really shaped Shaw, as well as his relationship with North. While the case surrounding Matty resolves here, the larger mystery surrounding the Slasher seems like it will carry over the series.
While the investigation side of the story is wonderful, what drew me in the most is the relationship between Shaw and North. Their dynamic is so fascinating and I just loved watching their interactions. The men have been best friends since college and they love to tease each other and give one another a hard time. I’ll admit, I had a few laugh out loud moments as the men poke gentle fun at each other and it is clear that their bond is strong. It is also clear as a reader that these men have feelings for one another that neither is ready to admit. The fact that North is married is just one complication, but mostly these guys are trying to ignore their feelings for each other and the tension between them is wonderfully done. To be clear, this is not a traditional romance novel arc in that the men have not moved past friendship in this book. Like I said, it is clear there are emotions here, but they are not acting on them or even acknowledging them, so don’t expect a romantic relationship yet. But Ashe does an incredible job showcasing the connection between them and the way the men support one another and care for each other. While I am so eager to see Shaw and North together as a couple, I found I really didn’t miss the “romance” aspect because I truly enjoyed their dynamic so much (and I have faith we will get there eventually).
My only quibble here in this excellent story is one of the side characters, Pari, their office assistant. I think Pari is supposed to be one of those characters who we are meant to find sort of quirky and endearing. But I’ll be honest, she made me nuts. She doesn’t do her job, nor even try. She yells at the men constantly, screaming at them when they do things like dare to suggest she not unplug the office phone so she doesn’t have to answer it. She throws things at them all the time, shattering plates and throwing office supplies. I honestly could not figure out why they tolerated her and her behavior. Yes, we have moments designed to show that she may actually care about them. But why would anyone put up with an employee who is verbally and physically abusive, just because they may be nice sometimes? I couldn’t help thinking if she was a male character who screamed at her bosses and threw things at them, no one would find that charming, but because she is a small woman, it is considered cute or at least acceptable. Anyway, personal preference here, but I kept hoping the entire book that they would fire her.
That issue aside, I found this story really wonderful. I was caught up in the mystery, but even more, I absolutely loved Shaw and North and think Ashe has done such a great job building their relationship. There is so much layering to all aspects of this story and it is just really rich and well developed. The second book is coming out shortly and I am eager to pick it up. I can definitely recommend you check out this series.