Title: Custody Battles
Series: Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand: Book Two
Author: Gregory Ashe
Length: 434 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
At a Glance: This installment of the Hazard and Somerset series exceeded every one of my expectations. I don’t know, maybe I need to raise my expectations, but I feel as though they’re already sky-high, and Gregory Ashe just keeps surprising me.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Some parents would die for their children. Others will do a whole lot worse.
Emery Hazard and his husband, John-Henry Somerset, are settling into their new normal—at home, with the latest addition to their family, and at work, as Somers adapts to his new role and Hazard manages his expanding agency. The only thing Hazard is worried about is getting through dinner with his in-laws.
When his father-in-law requests that Hazard and Somers join him for a weekend deer hunting, it sounds simple enough: spend a night camping, give their foster son a chance to spend time with his friend, and—possibly—prevent a parental kidnapping. But nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. At deer camp, Hazard and Somers find themselves drawn into a toxic family feud between parents battling for custody.
After the husband is shot and killed deep in the forest, detectives from the Sheriff’s Department are convinced that the killer is a local extremist—a member of the neo-Nazi Ozark Volunteers. Hazard and Somers, though, aren’t so sure, and as they probe deeper into the killing, they find that many people had a reason to want the victim dead, and the killing itself might not be what it seems.
Then a drive-by shooting almost claims the lives of Hazard, Somers, and the victim’s wife. The killer’s work isn’t done, and Hazard and Somers must race to find the truth before the killer strikes again.
Review: It should never escape a reader’s notice that parents frequently play the role of antagonists—villains . . . whatever—in Gregory Ashe’s work, but this is not something I’ve dwelled on as such. Yes, they exist, they are horrible, and while they do serve a purpose in the overall narrative, they aren’t necessarily the focal point of the story. There are other things to home in on, clues and threads to follow that ultimately culminate in finding a killer, which is more satisfying to me than being disgusted by some people simply because they seem to thrive on being loathsome and sadistic.
While a murder investigation is, of course, the focus in Custody Battles, it’s the people who’ve screwed up their kids in this book that make it what it is, and that relationship so often goes a long way toward explaining why Ashe’s characters are who they are; why they think, behave, and respond the way they do; and how difficult it is to escape that relationship unscathed, let alone recover from it. He has a way of writing eloquently vile people, and he outdid himself with some of the characters who populate this book. My blood pressure was off the charts at certain points in the story, which is a measure of how deeply engaged I was and how frequently I wanted to reach through my iPad and throat-punch some of the characters. Their definition of parenting is malleable, twisted to suit their purpose, used as a means of manipulation and control and, in some cases, it’s wielded like a weapon of destruction.
Glennworth Somerset, John-Henry’s father, is a catalyst in this book. Whenever he has a favor to ask of his son, it’s always to benefit Glennworth Somerset, no exceptions, and John-Henry often finds it difficult not to capitulate to his father’s machinations, which tends to cause friction between him and Emery. That’s how John and Emery end up at deer camp (which I learned is not a camp for deer, but a place to hunt them) with their foster son, Colt. Glenn is there to do a bit of political glad-handing and schmoozing, and his son being the Chief of Police could prove useful in a way that will grease the wheels a bit for the mayor. Little did Hazard and Somers anticipate they’d end up investigating a murder when one of the men in the hunting party turns up dead. That the victim was so repugnant, and the list of potential suspects so short, doesn’t make the case any easier to solve. Especially as the Ozark Volunteers, a white supremacist clan, become involved.
The animosity Colt feels toward Somers has been blatant and pointed from day one, and watching Somers struggle to cross that divide is often heartbreaking, as much so because he wants Colt to accept him as that he and Emery consistently land on opposite sides of the disciplinary spectrum when it comes to Colt’s behavior. John going soft on Colt when the kid is clearly out of line doesn’t endear Somers to either Colt or Emery, and it says something that I’m conditioned to expect every single thing to fall apart at a moment’s notice between these guys, even if temporarily, and that when they manage to talk through their conflicts, which they do more often now, I’m surprised as much as I am bracing myself for their next blowup.
Colt coming into Hazard and Somers’ life and claiming Emery as his father has upended their family dynamic. There are underlying reasons Colt hasn’t claimed John in the same way, things the boy has been conditioned to watch for and expect, and when the time comes to resolve this conflict, it happens in an emotionally spectacular way, as I’ve been conditioned to watch for and expect of this author. This moment in Custody Battles is fraught with pain and sacrifice and a deep and abiding commitment to do right by Colt, and I didn’t think I could love John-Henry Somerset more, but it turns out I can and I do. I’ll confess this part of the story made everything else that came before pale in its wake, but that’s only because the scene hit so hard and so right.
This installment of the Hazard and Somerset series exceeded every one of my expectations. I don’t know, maybe I need to raise my expectations, but I feel as though they’re already sky-high, and Gregory Ashe just keeps surprising me. Signs seem to be pointing toward some trouble brewing in John and Emery’s relationship, and it has the potential to be anxiety-inducing, even if short-lived. Unless, of course, I’m way off base, but I’m already bracing myself for impact.
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