Rating: 4 stars
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Things are picking up at Borealis Investigations and partners (and boyfriends) Shaw Aldrich and North McKinney have almost more work than they can handle. It is causing some stress and long hours, but it is also a relief to have some money flowing in. When the men are approached by the organizer of a gay romance convention for help, it seems like a chance to mix things up from some of their usual cases. The organizer has been getting anonymous notes threatening some trouble at the convention. There is a banned author who looks likely to be stirring things up, and the organizer wants to hire the guys to come and keep an eye on things.
North and Shaw get to work searching out the problem author, as well as interviewing some key players in the past scandal. But before they can uncover who is behind the threatening letters, a big-name author gets poisoned at one of the panels, ratcheting up the seriousness and adding another set of suspects. Each interview seems to lead to more potentially guilty parties and uncovering the web of relationships, threats, and conflicts isn’t easy. Especially when the cops show up wanting to investigate as well, including Shaw’s former boyfriend. On top of that, Shaw and North are also dragged into a case by North’s uncle Ronnie who wants them to look into someone who is beating up gay hustlers. The men have no desire to get involved with Ronnie, but his hold over North leaves them little choice. Between the two cases, plus general craziness at work, things are getting increasingly stressful. And with more attacks at the conference, the situation is escalating. Now it will take all of North and Shaw’s skills to find out who is behind the attacks before it is too late.
Indirection kicks off a new story arc in Gregory Ashe’s great Borealis Investigations series. The first three books all follow the Slasher case and that thread ties up in Declination. So here we continue the overall series, but start a new plot arc with the Borealis Investigations: Without a Compass series. So yes, it is basically one long series broken up in mini arcs. Given the books all feature recurring couple, Shaw and North, these books are best read starting from the beginning with Orientation so you can get the full relationship background, as well as history on past events. But if you really wanted to, you could probably start things off here.
So first off, I love Shaw and North together and I really enjoyed getting back into their world. These men pined for one another for years, have been best friends since college, and finally found their way to each other in the first part of the series. There is a comfort between them as they know each other inside and out. They have a fun interaction, poking at each other and giving one another a hard time, but underneath, the love and affection they have for each other is clear. The guys have a lot on their plates professionally, and some revelations come out that test them, but their dedication to one another helps them work through it. I’ll admit to having a major soft spot for the gruff North, and these stories definitely have a nice “grumpy one loves the sunshiney one” vibe. So the highlight for me was really digging back into this relationship and seeing the guys navigating challenges now that they are really settled into being boyfriends and not just best friends.
The mystery end takes place at the gay romance con, which happens to be going on in St. Louis where the guys live. They start off investigating the threats against the organizer and the possible disruption caused by the banned author, but things quickly escalate when one of the authors is poisoned. There are a lot of players involved and the case has enough twists that I didn’t guess who was behind it all. So many people are potential suspects that it keeps the suspense high, even as the answer makes sense once the culprit is revealed. I do think the investigation felt a little overlong to me. For a long time, it just felt like the men are going from interviewing one author to another and back again, without much happening to move things forward with the case. But like I said, things do come together well in the end and there are some interesting revelations and plot twists.
There is sort of a meta quality about this story in that it takes place at a prominent gay romance conference and involves romance authors and readers. The Queer Expectations Convention has obvious similarities to GayRomLit, a large, real life, gay romance convention. In fact, GayRomLit was set to take place in St. Louis in 2020 before covid-related cancellations and the 2021 event will be held there. As someone who has attended GayRomLit nine times, among other romance conventions, I have some personal feelings that are tied up in all of this, so let me lay that out there clearly. At the start of the book, when Shaw and North show up at the con and sort of get their bearings, I’ll admit that what was probably meant as gentle ribbing did hit a few sensitive spots for me in the way the authors and con goers are portrayed. Yes, probably a lot of the things the guys are shocked by (and rolling their eyes at) really do happen — think loud, obnoxious authors and readers; penis props; crazy costumes — but at times, it just rubbered me a bit wrong. Like I said, I really think this was meant to be some gentle poking fun, combined with highlighting Shaw and North’s sense of being fish out of water, rather than intended to be mean spirited in any way. And all that said, as the story continued, it became much less of an issue. In the end, it was definitely interesting to read about an event so similar to one I have experienced in real life so many times, particularly watching Shaw and North poke around in romance land.
In addition to the case, the guys also get drawn into working for North’s uncle Ronnie. The end of Declination makes it pretty clear Ronnie is holding something over North and here we find out what. It is quite serious and limiting Shaw and North’s ability to break free of him. I am really eager to see how that thread plays out over the course of the story as it is intense and sure to lead to a lot of trouble.
So I really enjoyed getting back into Shaw and North’s world and excited to pick back up with this series. I am looking forward to seeing how things develop as the series continues.