Emery Hazard is finally in a relationship with John-Henry Somerset. Emery has been in love with Somers since high school and never ever thought the two of them would be where they are. The men now live together and work together and it seems they can never get enough of each other. Despite both men wanting so much from the other, their relationship is still a work in progress and navigating it can be difficult for both men.
Another murder has come to town and the victim is the leader of a local religious cult. Hazard and Somers have to get up close and personal with the other members of the group and they find complicated relationships between all the members. The case brings up memories from Hazard’s past, ones he would rather forget, and it becomes a struggle for him as the men dig deeper into the case and the cult. But once again, this case has many layers and the motive for murder is harder to pin down.
Hazard has a lot to process where family is concerned. He has had a shaky relationship with his parents, especially his father, and he is trying to build a family with Somers. But that word, family, is one that is difficult for Hazard to swallow and Hazard and Somers need to sort themselves out, all while trying to catch a killer.
If you have been reading the Hazard and Somerset series, the moment finally happened at the end of the previous book where Somers and Hazard finally got together. Their relationship is anything but stable as this book opens, though, as they both think at any moment the other could potentially walk away. Hazard thinks Somers will go back to his “family,” his ex-wife and daughter, and Somers sometimes wonders exactly what Hazard is even doing with him. We don’t get a lot of time with them as a couple as the book opens, as the murder storylines are the focal points of this series.
I had a more difficult time getting into the murder case on this one. The victim is a leader of a religious cult and as they interview people of interest, there is a lot to wade through regarding the cult. The writing is excellent, as is Ashe’s style, and the author builds a thorough community of leaders and followers all with a story. The characters are deliberately written to be unappealing, as they are mostly loathsome and miserable, and we are shown variations of the strong and the weak with their sharp cunning motives or the brainwashing that has the power to break a person. Between that and the heavy focus on the religious cult, it was a lot for me to get through as a personal preference. However, that does not at all take away from the immense detail and atmosphere Ashe created with this storyline and it is certainly something to watch Hazard work a case.
Hazard has a lot to deal with. He went through a lot in his younger years and the scars run deeper than even he is aware of. The case triggers him, a visit from his father further triggers him, and where he thinks he stands with Somers is a consistent trigger, as Somers is everything he has ever wanted and Hazard thinks at any moment it will all be taken away. You don’t even have to read between the lines here to know that the two men don’t communicate well regarding their personal relationship for most of this series.
A remarkable thing happened as I got further into the book. With a murder case that was difficult for me to get into, with a line-up of minor characters that were unappealing on all counts, Ashe flipped this book completely for me as he continued to pull in Hazard’s past to run alongside the case and then worked the personal side of Hazard and Somer’s relationship to break them down and move them forward.
There is still a lot that could happen in this small town with corruption and dirty dealings potentially close to home for the men. The relationship between Hazard and Somers is the highlight of these books for me with their police work and family issues having a strong hold on their actions and reactions. It’s been a great journey for the men to get to the place they are at and each book brings their relationship to the next level and I am certainly looking forward to where they wind up next.