Final Orders (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand #5) by Gregory Ashe

final orders

This title may be purchased from Amazon

An embattled author. Fanatical parents. A son who can’t stay out of trouble. It’s the last one that’ll probably kill him.

When Emery Hazard gets drawn into a brawl at a monthly school board meeting, he knows he’s in trouble; his husband, John-Henry Somerset, is chief of police, and they’re already under enough scrutiny as they try to finalize their foster son’s permanency plan.

Hazard’s actions, however, have an unexpected consequence: a woman shows up at his office the next day, and she wants to hire him to protect her mother. Loretta Ames is a famous—and famously troublesome—author, and a string of recent attempts on her life suggests that someone is determined to get rid of her. Under pressure from his assistant, Hazard takes the job, assuming that it will be two days of babysitting before Loretta returns to New York.

Her murder changes everything. To find the killer, Hazard and Somers will enter a murky world of concerned parents, entitled teenagers, internet trolls, and a whole lot of grassroots crazy. But nothing is straightforward about the investigation, and even Loretta’s daughter seems to have her own reasons to want her mother dead. And when the killer abducts Colt’s friend, Hazard and Somers realize they are running out of time, and they must race to save him before it’s too late.

Rating: A

Note: Reference is made to a possible school shooting, and the story features the threat of gun violence on school premises.

If you’re a long-time Gregory Ashe reader, then you’ll already know that when you open one of his books, you’re in for a clever plot, compelling characters and a rollercoaster ride of emotions likely to result in bitten-to-the-quick nails and several almost-fell-off-the-seat moments – and this final book in the Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand series is perhaps more true of that than most. Its ripped-from-the-headlines plotlines made me – a non-American – want to scream and throw things on several occasions, so I can’t begin to imagine how my friends across the Pond deal with the issues the author tackles in this book.

Final Orders opens at a school meeting where a group of right-wing bigots (I’m calling it how I see it) are trying to ban a seminal LGBTQ+ young adult novel from the school library. They’re also aiming to prevent a visit to the school by its author, Loretta Ames, and are out for Theo Stratford’s blood, too, as he’s included the book on his teaching syllabus. Chief of Police John-Henry Somerset is present in an official capacity, and his husband Emery Hazard and many of their friends – Cora, Nico, Noah and Rebeca – are all there to lend quiet support to Theo and to oppose the ban. Things are starting to get heated when a schoolmate of Colt’s attacks Theo and the meeting descends into chaos.

Next day, Hazard is approached by Ayelet Ames, Loretta Ames’ daughter, who tells him someone is trying to kill her mother, explaining that she regularly receives death threats and has only recently had a couple of narrow escapes at home in New York. Hazard is sceptical and not keen to get involved – he doesn’t provide personal security – but Nico (sort of) talks him into it.

Without giving away too much, Loretta Ames is found dead in an abandoned complex outside of Wahredua and our dynamic duo of course find themselves up to their necks in the investigation and in all sorts of trouble. And while they’re working their way through a complex mess of clues and misdirection, and wading through a political and ideological minefield, they’re dealing with a lot at home, too. Colt’s social worker is expressing concern about his placement with them, and certain aspects of the investigation bring back difficult memories for Somers, reminding him quite viscerally of the lengths he went to as a teen to hide his true self, and the pain he caused Hazard and lived with himself.

As always in a Gregory Ashe book, there are lots of moving parts, but all are skilfully enmeshed so that they work together to form an exciting and insightful whole. He’s incredibly good at writing about deeply unpleasant people in a way that is both hard-hitting and realistic without turning them into cartoon-ish moustache-twirlers – which makes them all the more chilling. The subjects he tackles in this story – book-banning, the rabid (and unfounded) fears of some parents that their children are being groomed or indoctrinated, the quiet but pervasive radicalisation of the ‘soccer-mom’ – are presented in an accessible and very readable way that takes absolutely nothing away from just how terrifying they are.

For me, the relationships between the characters and their personal growth are just as important to these stories as the mysteries; while I’m always on tenterhooks waiting to find out whodunnit, the characters and their interactions are what keep me coming back to these books. The relationship between Hazard and Somers is SO well written and so authentic – of course the cases they get involved with are always dramatic, but their domestic life is relatable in so many ways, whether it’s Hazard’s insistence on not using fabric conditioner or Somers just wanting to have some peace and quiet at the end of a tough day. This series has explored what it means and what it takes to parent teenagers, and Mr. Ashe has never shied away from the difficulties and adjustments involved. There’s been a focus in this series on young people and how badly they can be screwed up (I couldn’t help thinking of Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse) and failed by those who are supposed to be their number one go-to for care and support, which has been hard to read at times – especially as someone with children who are not long out of their teens. The frequent battles between Hazard and Colt have been a huge learning curve for Hazard especially, and I felt bad for Somers, being stuck in the middle as he so often was while trying to walk another tightrope at work. The couple has gone through some incredible highs and some awful lows throughout these books, but there’s never any doubt about the depth of the love and affection they share; even when the going is at its toughest, we know they’ll come through for each other, and the author never fails to make me smile at their banter, or give me the warm fuzzies in moments of understanding and tenderness.

Final Orders ties up the majority of the series’ storylines in a satisfying manner, as we see, by the end of the book, that Colt is coming to a greater understanding and appreciation of what Hazard (and Somers) are doing for him, and Hazard is learning that he needs not to jump to so many conclusions and when to take a step back. I doubt their relationship will ever be completely harmonious, but things are well on the way to settling down. I was pleased to see Nico working through some of his issues and how good a friend to Hazard he’s become; I like their working relationship very much – Nico knows Hazard well enough to take no crap, and he’s good at his job – and even though he might not admit it aloud, Hazard knows it. And all those moments of Theo and Auggie being cute and couple-y made my shippy little heart happy 🙂

But there are a few unresolved plot threads left hanging that I hope the author plans to address at a later date. Somers realises he’s got more than one rotten apple in the department, so that’s something he’s eventually going to have to deal with. We also haven’t got the full story as to what’s going on with Dulac; he’s been on a downward spiral for several books now, and something happens in this story that looks set to make it even worse – so hopefully, Final Orders isn’t also the Last Word on all things Hazard and Somerset.

On its own, Final Orders is everything I’ve come to expect from Gregory Ashe – a fascinating, tightly plotted mystery featuring two complex, flawed (and loveable) leads and a fully-developed secondary cast who are so much more than sidekicks or window dressing. It’s also a superb conclusion to what has been a gripping series, and while it’s not always been easy or comfortable to read, I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent with the gang in Wahredua.

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