Title: Relative Justice
Series: Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand: Book One
Author: Gregory Ashe
Length: 408 Pages
Category: Murder Mystery
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: Relative Justice is nothing short of a spectacular mystery, and it’s no exaggeration to say Gregory Ashe knows Hazard and Somers down to every strength, every weakness, every foible, every flaw, every tic, every quirk, and every desire. They are so fully present on every page and in every scene, and this book marks an oh-so welcome return of these characters
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: An impossible son. An impossible murder.
The honeymoon is definitely over.
When Emery Hazard and his husband, John-Henry Somerset, arrive home from their honeymoon, they’re shocked (understatement of the year) to find a boy waiting for them on their doorstep. Colt, fifteen and eager to pick a fight, claims to be Hazard’s son. It’s almost a relief, then, for Hazard and Somers to be called out to assist the Dore County Sheriff’s Department with what seems to be an impossible murder: a man has been found stabbed to death in a stretch of woods, and the only set of footprints in the soft ground belong to the victim.
The more Hazard and Somers learn about the dead man, the more confusing the case becomes. While searching his home, they discover a secure room from which several high-end computers have been stolen. A woman makes a daring theft as the house is being secured and escapes with valuable documents. The dead man’s neighbor, who found the body, is obviously lying about how she discovered him. And something very strange is going on with the victim’s sons, who are isolated at school and seem to have found their few friends through the youth group at a local church—and in a close relationship with the hip, young, attractive pastor.
An attempt on Colt’s life leaves Hazard’s (possible) son in the hospital. When Hazard and Somers learn that the attack came after Colt tried to investigate the murder on his own, they realize he is now in the killer’s crosshairs, and Hazard and Somers must race to uncover the truth. The results from the paternity test aren’t back yet, but father or not, Emery Hazard isn’t going to let anyone harm a child.
Review: Once upon a time, Gregory Ashe sat down to write Pretty Pretty Boys, book one in the original Hazard and Somerset collection, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, did so with the intention of it not only being a standalone novel, but he’d also set out to make John-Henry Somerset the killer. Which, frankly, is something I can’t even begin to wrap my head around considering the direction he’s taken Somers and Emery Hazard over the course of, now, twelve books. They went from high school bully/bullied, to partners in the Wahredua PD (not without some antagonism), to partners in their private life (not without some combative moments), to fathers to Evie and to husbands (not without some challenges). It’s been an evolution of pain and conflict, heartbreak and suffering—sometimes of their own making, if we’re being honest—but now they are in a new place, not a perfect place by any means, but in a place where they are learning to communicate and, perhaps more imperatively, when to apologize. Are they done with internal conflicts? I’d be an idiot to think so. Are they done with external conflicts? See: idiot. One can only remain hopeful they will come through it all much stronger, and that readers are none the worse for wear afterwards.
“An impossible son.” This short, descriptive sentence fragment is little more than a tease of what this book is about. Said impossible son is parked on their doorstep, waiting for Hazard when he and John arrive home from their honeymoon. Tempers flare, of course, because this is Emery Hazard we’re talking about, the Emery Hazard who knows for a fact this boy can in no plausible way be his son and wants to know what kind of con the kid is running, even as much as it can’t be denied the boy looks and acts like he could be Hazard’s biological offspring. The ways in which Emery’s feelings for the boy, Colt, evolve despite the fact he didn’t exactly endear himself to either Emery or John from the word go—he is a teenager, after all—is gorgeous. In true Ashe fashion, he metes out scene after scene of all the ways in which this child needs both of these men, and all the ways in which, perhaps, Hazard needs this boy every bit as much, as the underlying and overarching truth is that being a good father doesn’t come down to DNA but to wanting to do right by a child—and punishing yourself when you make mistakes. Emery ends up wanting so much to do right by Colt, whatever the outcome of the paternity test, and the road to discovering that, while no doubt fraught with issues, is no less beautiful for the journey.
Colt’s presence in the Hazard-Somerset household also presents a particular conundrum to John-Henry, in which the Golden Boy who hasn’t yet met a person he couldn’t charm the socks off of finds himself wrong-footed by a scrappy teenager who, of all things, can’t seem to stand Somers. When I say I couldn’t help but find a little delight in that while also feeling a bit sorry for Somers, I mean it only in the sense that maybe it was what Emery needed from the boy who needed him so badly. Watching Somers struggle to understand why, or maybe more accurately, how Colt didn’t like him was pretty special.
If I went into this book thinking Emery Hazard being someone’s biological father was the only impossible thing I’d be asked to believe, “An impossible murder” cleared that notion up almost immediately, when he and John are called in to assist the sheriff’s department in an investigation involving a dead man, a pocket full of drugs and cash, among other things, and only the victim’s footprints leading to the body. It’s immediately ruled out as suicide, based on the trajectory of the stab wounds, so how in the name of all that’s conceivable did the killer leave no trace of their material existence? What to say that I haven’t already said at least a dozen times before about the wiliness of Gregory Ashe’s mysteries? The complexity of the cases is always remarkable, the twists unpredictable, the investigations always uncover something vile, and Relative Justice is, without exception, a superlative addition to the whole of the collection.
Hazard and Somers have honed their craft over the years, have had plenty to whet their investigative skills on, and they’ve only gotten sharper for it. The list of suspects in this case grows to include one unexpected person, Colt, who is absolutely starved for Hazard’s approval and gets himself into a passel of trouble for it. Somers will, at some point, I assume, be forced to reconcile his position as the Chief of Police against Hazard’s not strictly by-the-book investigative methods. In the meantime, however, there’s no doubt Emery Hazard gets results, procedures notwithstanding, and the unravelling of this murder case uncovered, once again, some truly horrific elements (strong warning for child victims).
The ways in which these characters and their relationship have evolved has been a sometimes torturous ride for readers. The payoff now is watching them interact from a place that feels more solid, especially Emery: the teasing, the private smiles, the soft looks, and the I love yous and I’m sorrys. It all feels like such a monumental sea change but at the same time so inevitable. If the word “sweet” could ever be used to describe a Gregory Ashe relationship, it applies to some truly lovely moments in this book, but that doesn’t mean these two can’t still get salty with each other. They absolutely do. There’s still plenty of the sort of conflict that means we shouldn’t be lulled into complacency simply because they’re lawfully wedded now. Plus, Nico’s back in the picture as Hazard’s new office assistant, so how that will play out in the long-term is anybody’s guess.
Relative Justice is nothing short of a spectacular mystery, and it’s no exaggeration to say Gregory Ashe knows Hazard and Somers down to every strength, every weakness, every foible, every flaw, every tic, every quirk, and every desire. They are so fully present on every page and in every scene, and this book marks an oh-so welcome return of these characters.
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