Domestic Animals (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand #3) by Gregory Ashe

domestic animals

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When a man hires Emery Hazard to track down a teenager who, he claims, robbed him, Hazard isn’t convinced. The story has holes in it, and the client seems eager—too eager—to keep the authorities from getting involved. But Hazard is willing to play along; he suspects something much darker is going on, and he wants to know what it is.

Then his husband, John-Henry Somerset, connects the boy in question to an ongoing suspicious death investigation, and both men realize they’ve stumbled upon something much more complicated. There are too many loose threads: missing money, stolen jewelry, a husband back from the dead, and a string of violent assaults on men paying for sex. And there are too many people with their own agendas.

After Hazard’s client turns up dead, though, the pressure is on. The killer isn’t done yet, and the closer Hazard and Somers come to unearthing the connection between the victims, the greater the danger. They find themselves in a race to uncover the truth before another victim is claimed—and, if Somers is really lucky, in time for him to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day.

Rating: A

Gregory Ashe does love to put his characters – and his readers – through the emotional wringer in his books, and while Custody Battles, the previous instalment in the Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand series, really twisted the knife, this latest episode in the messy – and often dangerous – lives of our favourite crime-fighting husbands, is a close second when it comes to the “ouch” factor. In Domestic Animals, Hazard and Somers are struggling – both individually and as a couple. and professionally and personally.  Hazard’s PI business is doing quite well, but Somers is finding it hard to make the leap from being a friend and colleague, from being one of the guys to being the boss, and suddenly becoming parents to an at-risk teen has rocked the boat of their personal lives so that neither of them is really able to give as much attention to their relationship as they should – something I think ANY parent can identify with; kids are wonderful but they can be exhausting and demanding as hell, too.

The mystery plot kicks off when someone arrives at Hazard’s office wanting to employ him to find a teenager he says stole from him.  Hazard is immediately suspicious (when isn’t he?!); it’s pretty clear to him that he’s being fed a load of bull and his suspicions are confirmed by the man’s obvious reluctance to involve the authorities.  He’s sure there’s something  iffy going on and determines to get to the bottom of it, so he takes the case, prepared to bide his time and do a little more digging on the side.

Meanwhile, Somers becomes involved in the investigation into the suspicious death of a woman found at the bottom of the stairs in her house.  Dulac and his new partner Palomo caught the case, but something doesn’t feel right to Dulac, and he calls Somers for help. Even though Somers knows that, as Chief of Police, it’s not his job to take cases any more, he decides to swing by and see what the problem is.  It quickly becomes clear that Dulac had good reason for his suspicion; something doesn’t add up, but Somers isn’t sure what – and, missing the sort of hands-on investigating he used to do (part of the job he liked and was actually good at) – and as a method of avoidance, he decides to stick with the case.

As always, the mystery is satisfyingly complex with lots of twists and turns, red herrings and suspects, as the author skilfully pulls together the two seemingly disparate plot threads after Somers connects the teen Hazard’s client is looking for with the murdered woman – and they suddenly find Colt right in the middle of it all. I can almost never see exactly how he’s going to connect cases that start out seeming completely independent of each other or work out quite how things are going to go – reason #5648739 why I love Gregory Ashe books!

Hazard and Somerset go through a lot – they always do – but somehow Mr. Ashe always finds a different angle each time so that we never feel as though we’re re-treading a path we’ve been down before.  He sets out certain themes and threads that will run throughout the series and then proceeds to follow and develop them in each book, but it never gets repetitive.  In Domestic Animals, he takes a look at burnout and how it can so easily creep up on someone like Somers, a man who, on the surface, has everything – good-looks, charm, a good (though stressful) job, and a husband and family he loves.  But he’s in a bad place right now, the pressures of his job – of having his father demanding special treatment for his mates, of some of his officers being openly disrespectful (and homophobic), the consequences of still not taking that final step from friend to boss, trying to get Hazard to step back from police investigations – and the pressures at home of trying to keep World War Three from breaking out between Hazard and Colt …  it’s all weighing him down and has become more than he can handle pretty much without his realising it. The quiet, aching misery Somers tries to bury while trying to pretend everything’s fine and just going through the motions is utterly excruciating to watch – it’s frighteningly easy to relate to and so well written – and I was on the edge of my seat as he comes dangerously close to resorting to his old coping mechanisms.  And because Hazard’s in a constant lather over Colt – and almost always on the verge of meltdown – he fails to see just how much his husband is struggling.  Or rather, he sees some of it, but doesn’t realise the full extent of it, and doesn’t usually react in a helpful way.  Mr. Ashe’s insight into what makes these two guys tick is, as ever, unfailing, and watching Somers slowly unravelling and unable to ask for help packed quite the emotional punch and was really hard to read.

Hazard is dealing with a lot, too; his relationship with Colt is a veritable rollercoaster at times, and he’s struggling not to view what’s going on with his foster son through the lens of his own adolescence and father/son relationship (or lack thereof), and they’re constantly at each others’ throats.  The storyline about the breakdown of Colt’s friendship with his bestie, Ash, adds an interesting extra  layer and deepens Colt’s characterisation as he’s dealing with the heartache of what might be first love and a first break-up.

Nico and Dulac are both having personal problems, although Nico seems a bit more on top of his than Dulac, who is spiralling downwards after a big fight with his boyfriend.  I thought Somers should have benched him sooner than he did, though – but then, that scenario is a perfect example of why it’s not possible to be both friend and boss.

But amid all the fights and all the stress and angst, there’s still room for  Mr. Ashe’s trademark humour and quickfire banter;  Hazard’s instructions to Theo and Auggie about coming round to help fit some carpet and description of them as “probationary friends” made me giggle (and makes me eager for the rest of the First Quarto books) – for some truly tender moments between Hazard and Somers, where the depth and strength of their love for each other leaps off the page, and for moments of quiet understanding and sympathy between Hazard and Colt, Somers and Colt and the three of them together.  The pay-offs for all the angst and anger and rows can be a long time coming, but they’re so very worth the wait,

Domestic Animals is a tough but enthralling read in which Gregory Ashe proves yet again that he’s writing some of the most compelling, multi-layered characters and stories in the genre.  Hazard and Somerset are their own worst enemies at times, but after fourteen books (and several shorts), I’m as captivated by them as ever and don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading about them.  Highly recommended.

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