Orientation (Borealis Investigations #1), Gregory Ashe
Rating: 4 Stars
Publisher: Hodgkin and Blount
Tags: Murder/Mystery, Private Investigators, Angst, Drama, Psychological, Offbeat Humour, Series, Perverse, Obsessive Romance
Length: 303 Pages
Purchase At: 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.
This series was one I meant to get to when it first came out but never did, until now. It’s already extensively reviewed on GR and well thought of. But for those interested, my thoughts are below. Maybe you are unsure, haven’t read this series before or, like me, have been late to the Borealis Investigation party.
I had a complex relationship with this book, the writing, the characters, the investigation. All of the characters, from the MCs to secondary and bit players. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Is. Annoying and frustrating in more than a few ways. And. Every. Single. One. Of. Them could fill a therapist’s practice for years. However, I must add to this that I grew attached to the MCs as I continued to read. So don’t be off-put.
In line with being fully blunt, I nearly gave up on Orientation because I thought the MCs would remain terminally unlikeable. Pari, Shaw and North’s receptionist/secretary, adds to this. She is such a one-dimensional, bizarrely over the top character. I wish she had been fleshed out. After Pari throwing food and plates and Scotch tape at her bosses I was, yeah, okaaaayyy, this is extra. Anyway, I then went and had a look at a couple of 1 and 2 star reviews of the book (I read one that gave me great insight) – “processed,” sorry not sorry – then I came back to the book again because I felt buoyed that it might just give me something different. Hoped perhaps it would hand me some fictional angst that would suit this perverse mind of mine. I like angst when in the right hands. I especially like stories and characters who give me deep shades of grey. I most certainly can and do get behind fictional possessive behaviour.
Orientation is a book of existential angst. “Processing.” The juxtaposition of Lululemon shirts and hemp pants against Red Wing boots, Carhartt jackets, and American Crew and Irish Spring. Also “pretty boys, “certainly the author’s love of (the words) pretty boys. Plus the strangest descriptions of eyes I’ve ever read, “ice-rim eyes” included.
Oh, and it’s a book about people who seriously don’t seem to know how to use their prefrontal cortex often enough, and cannot be honest with themselves or talk in a linear, sensible line. And they have thoughts that are as deep as the deepest glacier… and they express their thoughts as such. Or they throw things. Or they have relationships with people they don’t love that causes chaos because someone else is in their mind, scratching away at the back of it. They have too much ruminative perplexity. Simple becomes complex. A lot of stuff swirls around and about the subconscious of Shaw and North, just thinking, thinking, thinking that maybe they feel something potentially illuminating in regards to their… wait! It got lost in the haze! So let me fill in the blanks for you, boys. It’s your (business) partner! Each other! A big tip – you’re in love with one another. Very obsessively in love with one another. Have been for at least 7 years. We know it. Everyone around you knows it, have used it against you because of knowing it. You know it too… but the author is cruel to you. Seek a restraining order.
But what about the actual storyline? Well, first off, Shaw and North have some clear self-definition going on. One yoga loving, dairy and carb denying, the other not. One who started up the business with a PI licence that is now suspended, because reasons, the other with trust fund money. They absolutely come from two different backgrounds. They need a new client when pretty Matty Fennmore comes to Borealis Investigations with a case that suits their LGBTQ investigations business. Apparently he’s heard good things about them, especially Shaw. It seems maybe someone is blackmailing him because he’s from a church family with a gay ‘sex tape’, tsk. What happens if his family finds out? Well, Matty was just another to add to the unlikeable list. Dear lord, that “pretty boy” could wail and gnash teeth. This agency and these guys are dick magnets, especially Shaw – I was going to say in a bad way but, eh, it’s in every way, to be honest.
There are several players that whirl around Shaw and North – drag queens who know the who’s who in the local community: Unlikeable. A BDSM guy who could be in the crime up to his armpits: Unlikeable. A guy who we never meet and seems to be a lynchpin in the blackmail: Unlikeable in absentia. Oh, and two cops, Barr and Reck, who are working the case with odd intensity: Unlikeable x 2. Welp, maybe I was having a bad day. Nah. It isn’t really about these other people, I twigged, they’re all props to the Shaw and North Show.
It may seem that I didn’t like Orientation. That would be very wrong. Because the credit side of my reading balance sheet was substantial. Including some interesting psychology. I understood they whys of a few things. Things that some readers found (understandably) perplexing, I empathised with. Why, for example, someone wouldn’t say boo when they (accidentally) discovered a close person, someone they deny they love more than a best friend but absolutely love so much more, is in an abusive relationship. Why, initially, they might be immobilised or why they might be angry that close person has never told them. Especially when they hang out every single day with said person who is hiding details of such emotional intensity. A partner, family, can get angry when they hear for the first time via someone else or, say, in a therapist’s office that this partner, this family member is having suicide ideation, has been for a while, and they haven’t ever mentioned it to them, their family. The shock and then hurt makes people react differently because they just learned someone they love and loves them didn’t want them to know, for personal reasons. These guys both have their pride, their own backstories, their own, personal
Apart from the psychology – and we have issues for days looming with Shaw’s past around the West End Slasher and what appears to be a dysfunctional relationship between North and his father – Gregory Ashe shows he is a passionate author. He owns it. Stamps his own unique style all over the book, puts his foot to the floor and off he goes. I like and respect that. He also has lovely language, a little unusual at times, but lovely nevertheless. And even though the investigation is odd, I still liked the murder/mystery combined with some bizarre UST romance. And a personal biggie, Ashe imbues his main characters with a most seductive and addictive quality. I started out ambivalent, became frustrated, then went to being hooked and reeled in. I was left needing to know more about them. I want North to have Shaw. I want Shaw to have North. They really are meant for each other. The other people who come into their orbit damage them. And, of course, their buried obsessive love is one significant cause of this damage, but still, let them have what they want. Let these two twenty-six year olds who sometimes seem older and sometimes younger have their fix. I mean, doesn’t Gil get a lick of that brass ring?!
North grabbed me first. I liked him a whole lot, in spite of his moment of knee-jerk reactivity at a critical point. Man, I sighed. I sighed so loud that it could have been heard on the ISS. For all his intention to protect Shaw, North, and often to his own emotional detriment, says things that bite little pieces off the emotionally fragile, sometimes scattered, dissociative Shaw. He knows it but can’t help it… can, but (possessive) neural pathways and all that jazz, because he thinks he’s being helpful. Pffft. However, when he thinks beautiful thoughts, ahhh, they are particularly lovely. He is also intrinsically kind, something he finds so worthy in Shaw but doesn’t notice in himself. Speaking of, I then grew to like Shaw. Really like Shaw. What Shaw did at Webster Groves, well, I’m still stanning that.
I’ve left Orientation feeling slightly off-kilter, suits who I am, and addicted to Shaw and North. I enjoyed, way too much, some of their self-delusional inner monologue and drama. But seriously, this book could have cut down on the rumination and concentrated on making the investigative work more solid because it’s the most nebulous of investigations. But look, I’ve come to the conclusion this series is about the interpersonal drama and denial and stifled lamentations of feelings of unrequited love, they are soooo not unrequited, and of the vortex, the whirling gravitational pull of Shaw and North, and I’ve given over to it. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air, surrendered, and am marching forth, straight into the potential hurt and inward longing territory I suspect is coming for me with these MCs in Triangulation, book #2. Furthermore, I welcome my new emotionally fissured overlords. Come on, boys. Give Kazza what she wants. 4 Stars!