Title: Reasonable Doubt
Series: Hazard and Somerset: Book Five
Author: Gregory Ashe
Length: 458 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Murder Mystery
At a Glance: Gregory Ashe’s talent for telling a compelling story is matched in his ability to create atmosphere in each and every scene. This series just keeps getting better with each new installment.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: After almost twenty 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.
Review: For anyone who has a complicated relationship with religion, or a complex history with it, there are many things in Gregory Ashe’s latest, Reasonable Doubt, that will resonate. This chapter of the Hazard and Somerset series—which just keeps getting better with each new installment—focuses heavily on belief and brings murder to Emery and John-Henry’s doorstep when a cult leader who claims he is Jesus Christ is found dead. And his most devout followers believing he will rise again on the third day. Was this a crime of passion, a case of biblical proportions, or was this premeditated murder? The question of what is faith, what is brainwashing, and what is pure irrationality looms large over much of this novel.
The procedural aspect of an Ashe mystery is always impeccable, drawing the reader into the investigation of each murder—in this case there are multiple murders as well as suspects—as we watch Emery Hazard do what he does best. Calculate, reason, extrapolate and, eventually, unravel clues and reveal the killer and their motive. In doing so, he elevates Somers’ skill set and forces John-Henry to use his own considerable deductive reasoning abilities, which is what makes them such a formidable detective team. Emery is the hard-boiled, driven investigator, prickly and lacking in people skills, while John-Henry is the golden boy, the charming every guy, the polar opposite of his partner. But together, they work, although not without their fair share of conflict.
The turn their relationship has taken gives this novel an emotional heft that inspires a deeper investment in the overall reading. Emery and John-Henry finally confessing their love for each other is not a convenient remedy for their past and the insecurities that remain between them, though. There’s an obvious juxtaposition between Emery, the detective, and Emery, the man who’s in love with his partner, which makes him such a beautiful contradiction. While his investigative instincts are keen, laser-focused—in this case, to the point it’s a near obsession—that aptitude doesn’t translate to his ability to read and take emotional cues from John-Henry (some of which can be attributed to Somers). Emery so often guesses wrong, assumes the worst while this thing between them is so new and fragile, and it’s fascinating to watch Emery struggle internally with his own self-defeating thoughts and emotions while remaining in charge of each case. One more significant reveal from Emery’s past enriches not only him as a character but adds a connection to this case that affects him mind, body, and soul. This combined with his belief that he is a temporary fixture in John-Henry’s life, that Somers will leave him and return to his ex-wife and daughter sooner rather than later, entrenches Emery in a maelstrom of turbulent thoughts and feelings and encompasses his actions and reactions. Emery wants but also fears that want, and it takes a leap of faith to claim the future and family he yearns for. Ultimately, his confession to Somers is a communion between not only them but the reader as well.
John-Henry Somerset carries his own emotional baggage into this relationship, as he also fears he is temporary in Emery’s life. How could Emery ever fully forgive Somers for bullying him so viciously in high school? Not to mention that John-Henry has a history of running away when the going gets tough, turning to the bottle to escape his problems. His past with Emery becomes a sticking point in other aspects of the story as well; in particular, in a conversation between Emery and his estranged father, another layer to this novel that added a poignant overtone. It’s a testament to Ashe’s gift for meaningful and impactful dialogue that not only advances the storyline but reveals so much of his characters’ personality.
Gregory Ashe’s talent for telling a compelling story is matched in his ability to create atmosphere in each and every scene. Wahredua, Missouri, is a character unto herself, and its population adds its own flavor to the setting—often not in a positive way. Each metaphor, rather than distracting from the narrative, adds to the tone and ambiance, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in every scene and to connect with the role players. Regardless of how significant or fleeting a character’s part in the storyline might be, drawing a mental picture of that person is made possible by descriptions that enhance their presence. One character in particular, a boy who was indoctrinated into and then misused by the cult, was especially powerful.
I remain an ardent fan of this series and this author and can’t recommend it strongly enough for readers who love a complex mystery rife with equally complex characters. The climactic scene in Reasonable Doubt was perfect in pitch and worked to propel Emery and John-Henry over a significant hurdle in their relationship.
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