Rating: 4 stars
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Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset have a busy life. With John as Chief of Police and Emery expanding his PI business, their days are long and exhausting. They have also taken in Colt as their foster son and tensions are high as Colt wants nothing to do with John. And, Colt’s biological father is blackmailing John, and John is hiding that from Emery, and that situation is a bomb waiting to explode. They also have to deal with John’s father, who is the town Mayor, and he has now requested the men join him for a weekend of deer hunting that is all about his politics. The campsite is filled with more toxic people and it’s not long before shots are fired, killing a man that had a lot of enemies.
The prime suspect is on the run and, as Emery and John investigate further, they uncover many secrets with many people that could have wanted the victim dead. Nothing is what it seems and as their home life start to fracture and tensions pile on top of each other, Emery and John are once again in the sights of a killer.
Custody Battles picks up right after the end of Relative Justice in Gregory Ashe’s Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in Hand series, and the preview chapters at the end of that book gave a sample of one of the issues Emery and John would be facing in this book. Well, only one of them is facing it because John is hiding the fact that Colt’s abusive biological father is blackmailing him.
Ashe keeps his trademark writing style and stays true to the characters and the setting here. Emery and John are true three-dimensional characters and their immediate world around them is familiar to any long time reader of this duo. There is intense stress coming at them from every angle, both inside their home and out, and both in their personal relationship and relationships with others. Colt is a major source of stress as he wants nothing to do with John at all and acts out in deliberate and cruel ways.
I sometimes feel that I enjoy the whole of John and Emery’s story more than some of the parts. Their overall story is one I am always excited to read, but some of the storylines here didn’t sit as well for me. I did not understand how John allowed himself to be blackmailed so easily. He’s the Chief of Police and I really needed more to make that one land properly for me. I also had issues with Colt and how he came into Emery’s life and then how he treated John. Sure, he’s a teenager, but none of his family issues were dealt with properly for me. As for Emery, his quirks and his controlling nature in the past could be mildly amusing. He’s crossing lines for me here as he’s rude to everyone and he’s super controlling of John and he’s becoming less amusing to me. I also didn’t feel that I had enough to go as to who John’s father wanted to network with at deer camp and why. The case again takes the men through several suspects and danger and the atmosphere remains tense and vivid. But then, I didn’t feel the wrap up of the case was conveyed as much as I would have liked given how much of a focal point it is to the story.
Despite some issues I had with the storylines and with the pacing similar to the others in the series, this book did hold my interest all the way through and I once again enjoyed the whole of Emery and John’s story. Emery and John always have much to take on and their lives remain complex. Their relationship here is fraying at the edges and I will be ready to see where they will go next.