Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Middle school teacher by day and blogger by night, Hayden keeps himself busy. Now that spring break is right around the corner, though, he’s ready to let his hair down. The first order of business is to support his friends Burley and Sara Lee as they plan a huge fundraiser for Bakers without Borders. With his best friend Hollister in tow, Hayden arrives at the event space to see the main attraction: an exclusive appearance by Kennedy Osaka, creative director of the renowned Mysterium circus and childhood friend of Sara Lee. However, what should have been a night of fun fizzles fast when Kennedy is a no show. But nothing could have prepared Hayden, Hollister, and the rest of their gang for what happens later that night… when the police arrest Sara Lee for Kennedy’s murder.

Truth be told, Hayden thinks of Sara Lee as an annoying frenemy more than anything else. But her trouble strains the fabric of his friend group just as much as it lights a fire under Hollister. Determined to reprise their roles as crack-pot investigators, Hollister ropes Hayden into unraveling the mystery of how Kennedy died and who did it. Only by sleuthing around the Mysterium tents and their stars–not to mention one particularly attractive acrobat named Vlad–and with help from a lawyer named Jess who’s the spitting image of Hayden, can Hayden and Hollister hope to clear Sara Lee’s name and bring balance back to their found family.

Cirque du Slay is the second book in the Hayden & Friends series from author Rob Osler. The story is set in chilly, spring-time Seattle where Hayden and Hollister ping-pong between the Mysterium grounds, Jess’ houseboat, and the bakery run by Burley and Sara Lee. The short chapters are all told from Hayden’s perspective and, every now and again, the murder mystery plot is broken up with blog posts Hayden publishes to his queer slice-of-life blog.

I jumped into this book not knowing there was an earlier story in the series. It’s not my usual approach, but even before I realized there was more backstory to be had, I thought the events in this book stand well enough on their own. My understanding is that Hayden and Hollister do more amateur sleuthing in book one to help save/rescue/locate a man named Camilo. In this book, it’s clear Hayden has been crushing hard on Camilo, but he gets such mixed signals from the guy that Hayden never screws up enough courage to act. Vlad, one of the circus acrobats, adds a little more explicit romantic intrigue. Vlad is much more of an on-page presence and swings between “total murder suspect” and “emotional support rebound.” Personally, the romantic threads these two weave into the story are more decoration than plot, but they are a pleasant distraction from the sneaky sleuthing Hayden gets involved in.

The murder mystery plot is at the front and center of just about everything in the story. As the two MCs investigate, interview, and otherwise intervene on Sara Lee’s behalf, there are lots of clues about who the Mysterium cast and crew are. I think good mysteries present the reader with information and clues, but in ways that do not immediately lead them to the correct answer. Olser has done a fine job incorporating a large supporting cast in ways that build up the details about the circus. Many perspectives on the murder are introduced and many of the suspects are introduced as well. Personally, even with all this information, I never felt like our two MCs were making any real progress until Sara Lee takes an out of town trip the day before having to report back to police. When the investigation kicks into high gear, some of the details finally start gelling and Hayden helpfully spells it out on page through some guesswork. I did have the pleasure of a few “aha!” moments by the time the truth was uncovered, which is always great in a mystery.

As much as this book is about Hayden and Hollister solving the mystery of who murdered Kennedy Osaka, there is so much more going on. Osler does a great job incorporating the characters’ real worlds into the fabric of the book. For example, Hayden has an ailing 91-year-old best friend and Hollister is coping with an on-again-off-again girlfriend. I always enjoy it when there’s more to a story than just plowing through the plot and I absolutely felt like Hayden, Hollister, and their group of friends are more than just avatars going through the motions. The depth of these characters made the story more cozy for me.

Overall, this was a fun read. Fans of murder mysteries will appreciate the layers and details in the cast and constellation of events presented in this book. Readers who enjoy queer representation will also enjoy how multifaceted the characters are in their queer identities and a smidge of discussion on queer identities as Hayden blogs about befriending a transgender person. If you enjoy stories about tight-knit found families and that feature strong, well-defined characters, then I think you’ll really enjoy this story.