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.
Relative Justice is book one in Gregory Ashe’s latest series to feature Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset, Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand, and even though it’s the start of a new series, it’s most definitely NOT the place to start if you’ve never picked up a H&S book before. Going back to start at Pretty Pretty Boys – eleven books and quite-a-few novellas ago – may seem like a daunting prospect, but I promise it’s well worth it, and by doing that you’ll gain a much greater understanding of the characters and their relationship, which has been through many, many ups and downs – and I suspect there are likely more to come!
Note: There are spoilers for the previous books in the series in this review.
After surviving both major relationship issues AND being the target of a deranged killer, by the end of The Keeper of Bees (the final book in the previous series) Hazard and Somers finally made it down the aisle. But nothing is ever simple where these two are concerned, and they return from their honeymoon to find a dark-haired teenaged boy waiting on the doorstep who promptly announces to them that he’s Hazard’s son.
Jet-lagged and tired after a long journey, Hazard… doesn’t handle the news well and has a minor meltdown, insisting that whoever this kid is there is absolutely NO WAY he can be his father and the boy must be running some sort of scam, while Somers tries to be the voice of reason and to calm things down before they get any worse. He insists they can’t just leave the kid on the street and says he should stay the night at least, so they can all get some sleep and then work out what to do in the morning. Hazard is still fuming, and stomps out – but only as far as neighbours Noah and Rebeca’s place where he starts to calm down and to think rationally about what to do next.
When he’s made some calls – and learned that unless the boy – Colt – can stay with them for the time being, he’ll have to go to a group home or a residential facility – Hazard decides he can stay put for a short while, at least until the results of the paternity test he’s taken come back, and he takes Colt to enrol at the High School. In the meantime, Somers – now Chief of Police Somerset – has been approached by Sheriff Engels for help investigating a rather baffling murder, and is specifically asked to involve Hazard as well.
When they arrive at the scene, it quickly becomes apparent to both of them why Engels has requested their help – a man has been stabbed to death in a forest some distance out of town, but there is no sign that another person was involved, even though the wounds couldn’t have been self-inflicted. It’s an impossible murder, but – as usual with a Gregory Ashe mystery – there is no shortage of suspects once the investigation gets going, from the skeevy girlfriend who claims the victim left her everything in his will, including the custody of his two boys, to the neighbour with whom he was involved in a dispute about land boundaries, to the new pastor who gives off a really dodgy vibe. Add in the audacious theft of an important piece of evidence while police are actually on the scene and the two douchebag detectives from the sheriff’s department who are only too keen to stir up trouble for our heroes, and the stage is set for another complex, clever mystery that doesn’t pull its punches when it gets down to the nitty and the very gritty.
And while Hazard and Somers are trying to untangle all the threads surrounding the murder, Hazard is slowly getting to grips with what it really means to be a father. He makes a lot of mistakes and sometimes he’s really harsh, yet in the midst of it all, there’s no question that he’s trying hard to do the right thing. And Somers is simply awesome in supportive husband mode. As to whether Colt is who he says he is… well, I’m not telling, because really, in the end, it doesn’t matter. The theme of family – of what makes one and what you do as part of one – is the important thing, and the author completely nails the complicated dynamics that abound in the family Hazard and Somers are choosing to make. The characterisation of Colt is spot on – a perfect angry, surly teen who pretends not to care but who really cares so much and desperately wants to impress his chosen role model.
There’s a lot going on in this story, yet it never feels rushed or under-developed; the pacing is just right and the author balances his various story threads with supreme skill and confidence. As well as the mystery and the Colt storyline, there are some fabulous cameos from Hazard’s mother, who is a terrific grandmother and helper, and Theo Stratford, now Dr. Stratford (so clearly, he finished that thesis!) and a teacher at the High School – and I can’t forget Shaw who, while he doesn’t actually appear, nonetheless caused several snorts of laughter in absentia (Somers using the idea of inviting him for a visit as a threat when Hazard is being mean is priceless!) I was also pleased to see Nico again – yes, really! – he’s grown up a lot and clearly wants to be a good friend to Hazard. I like the idea of his working for Hazard’s agency and think he’ll be good at his new job, but there are also hints that not all is well with him, and I really want him to be okay.
But as is always the case with Mr. Ashe’s books, what sets Relative Justice apart from the crowd is the fantastic characterisation and superb combination of relationship development, humour, laser sharp insight into what makes these people tick, and the way all the emotions – the angst, the frustration, the pain, the love – are perfectly realised on the page. Hazard and Somers have come such a long way since we first met them, and now, are more solid than ever, despite the challenges they experience in this book (and the realisation of what being fathers of two is going to do to their sex life!). The way they work together professionally has always been a delight to watch, and here, we get to see them each bring their own particular strengths to the situation at home, Somers’ people skills and his deep understanding of everything Hazard, and Hazard’s formidable intelligence and unshakeable loyalty to those he loves.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I am in awe of Gregory Ashe’s ability to consistently craft books of such high quality (and at such a rate.) I don’t know how he does it, I’m just incredibly glad – and very grateful – that he does. Relative Justice is an incredibly strong start to what promises to be another fantastic series featuring two of my all-time favourite characters. I can’t do anything other than offer the strongest of recommendations.
Note: Themes of child abuse and neglect feature prominently (although there’s nothing graphic) in this story.