Rating: 4.5 Stars

Publisher: Hodgkin and Blount 

Tags: Cops/Detectives, Murder/Mystery, Cult, Violence, Romance, Series. **TW: Homophobic Slurs. Violence. Strong Religious Themes. 

Length: 468 Pages

Reviewer: Kazza

Purchase At: amazon

Blurb:

After almost twenty years, Emery Hazard finally has the man he loves. But things with his boyfriend and fellow detective, John-Henry Somerset, are never easy, and they’ve been more complicated lately for two reasons: Somers’s ex-wife and daughter. No matter what Hazard does, he can’t seem to get away from the most important women in his boyfriend’s life.

While Hazard struggles with his new reality (changing dirty diapers, just to start), a bizarre murder offers a distraction. John Oscar Walden, the leader of a local cult, is found dead by the police, and the case falls to Hazard and Somers. The investigation takes the two detectives into the cult’s twisted relationships and the unswerving demands of power and faith.

But the deeper Hazard looks into the cult, the deeper he must look into his own past, where belief and reason have already clashed once. And as Hazard struggles to protect the most vulnerable of Walden’s victims, he uncovers a deeper, more vicious plot behind Walden’s murder, and Hazard finds himself doing what he never expected: racing to save the killer.

Only, that is, if Somers doesn’t need him to babysit.

Review: 

I find Gregory Ashe’s blurbs a little like texts or emails, the tone is missing, and tone for these books is everything and yet Ashe doesn’t add the thinking emoji, just joking, at the end of something like-

(…)and Hazard finds himself doing what he never expected: racing to save the killer.
Only, that is, if Somers doesn’t need him to babysit.

It would seem like there is some light to the book, but there isn’t much of that. Even the first paragraph (of the blurb) is so innocuous or makes you think Cora, Somers’ wife, is a pain in the arse, but that isn’t the actual truth. However, it is a source of disruption because Hazard is a troubled man with no particular understanding of healthy relational behaviour or family or communication. And he needs a ton of therapy. Honestly, both Hazard and Somers should be having psych evals.

Hazard’s father turns up in Reasonable Doubt. Yay, just what Hazard needs. Frank is a plot device to tie Hazard’s current investigation into his even more complex past. He’s there in the beginning, to stir up emotions. He’s there in the end, to stir up emotions. To even elicit sympathy. I have a theory. Hazard continually gets resurrected at horrible moments in history and lives multiple worst-case lives: In Spain, during the Spanish Inquisition, at the mercy of Torquemada himself. Irish, during the Great Famine. A soldier at Gallipoli in WW1, and in WWII he is interned in Germany. Imprisoned in a Vietcong cage in the Vietnam War… and on it goes. Now he’s Emery Hazard, who’s had a traumatising life with his family – growing up in a homophobic Ozark town, being left at a conversion camp when he was told it was going to be a family holiday, being bullied mercilessly in Wahreuda, his teenaged boyfriend being raped and tortured until he died/killed himself. Becoming a cop, only to be framed and disgraced in his previous position until he had to come back to the town that hates him – Emery Hazard, the “town gay.” He also has awful exes, or childish exes, co-dependency for days, I could keep going but I believe you get the drift. The only comfort I have – and I’m certain I’ll be on an emotional treadmill, a dark dance with the MCs before this actually happens – is that he’s is finding something that looks good. But I know Ashe has more torture and tumult in store for Hazard. Because as much as Somers has been a steadfast partner and lover in recent times, one who is increasingly empathetic and patient, which brings its own set of problems, it’s built on unstable ground.

Hazard is an overall belligerent being who has moments of being decent. He’s kind underneath but it’s hard to get past a lot of his demonstrative toxicity. When he hits dry humour, I enjoy that, but, wow, it’s hard going with him – however understandable some of it is. Anyway, there is going to be an inevitable (for them) emotional collision of their pasts. This is where the overarching theme has always been heading. How do they both hurdle what’s happened in their combined past? Somers’ guilt. Hazard’s hurt. It’s the emotional Big Bang, so to speak. There are other boorish, malevolent players to be dragged out, there’s doubt to be cast, and Hazard isn’t good at mind games, not really. He self-engineers enough mental lumps of coal to generate his very own (mentally) ecologically-damaging, outdated power station.

I love religion in my reading. I’ve read a ton of books over the years where religion is not just an undercurrent, it’s a power player in the story. Fiction, mostly, but non-fiction as well. This book hinges around a cult and their interpretation of how the Bible should play out in current times – Come on, Hebrew Scriptures! My husband is a religious man (I’m not.) He knows the Bible inside out, upside down and sideways. He can quote scriptures at you all day. You want to know if there’s a scripture for that? He’s your man. So, of course, he was my book buddy this time around – that’s how we roll – because while he’s religious, he’s not homophobic. Far from it. He was very enlightening in regards to some scriptures and vocalising of fervent religious brainwashing doctrine. Who knew the Promised Land was in Wahreuda?

This book does progress Hazard and Somers’ relationship… sort of. It progresses Hazard’s role in Somers’ family’s life, meaning his estranged? ex? wife – I always forget which – and daughter, not Somers’ delightful parents, the last two words are heavy on sarcasm. And Hazard does love Somers, to be honest is isn’t healthy, and it’s reciprocated in kind. However, in order to love Somers, Hazard has to supress a lot of what happened to him as a teen, the dreadful bullying Somers was a part of. To that end, Ashe drops off some of Hazard’s more intense thoughts from earlier books. Not to worry, cue Somers’ empathetic overload. Cue Emery’s father. Hazard senior lights a fuse by asking Emery how he can love someone that caused so much pain in his youth. An ironic but reasonable question. But people can change. Can’t they? Somers has. Hasn’t he? Frank Hazard can… well, he can ‘fuck off’ with his question that smacks of hypocrisy. Until it doesn’t. Hazard is so angry at his father. So angry about the word “family.” So angry at religion. So (fearfully) angry at Somers. So angry at his treatment by bullies as a teenager. So angry at having been shipped off to a nightmare as a teen, one that now intersects with a boy named Clyde and a woman called Sister Naomi. Boom! The cult leader’s murder that starts off this whole book becomes a cancer, another irony. It reminds Hazard of his time at the Valley of Elah Conversion Centre. The people who run it, the people who are brainwashed, those on the periphery who enable. The politics of it all, the sadism, the misinterpreting scriptures to suit. The veil that all of it casts over (in)decency. That Somers claims to believe, goes to church, is news to Hazard, and while Hazard is a well read man, he still doesn’t truly understand people’s unwavering religiosity. He can justify that there are some good people involved, but religion is not known for its LGBTQ support and Hazard has been on the receiving end of that nasty piousness, and it’s caused some real damage.

Overview:

This is a solid series book. I enjoyed the religious theme. I felt a lot of emotion. I was attached to certain people. The intimacy and romance of Emery and John-Henry is working nicely. The series books are ramping up to a big finale. I’m invested to the max.

I told myself, don’t write a review, don’t write a review. Don’t, Kaz, you know this series has plenty of them already. But here I am. It’s taken me forever. *Sighs. So there’s that. There are always numerous thoughts rolling around and around my head in regards to this series, and Borealis as well. It appears I have to liberate them. The Borealis series is my favourite series of the two. I really miss Shaw and North. Anyway, my point is that I read this author because he’s such a good storyteller. But I don’t always like the delivery of this particular series. There are a couple of reasons that I won’t elaborate on. But an example is this has all the drama and all the emotional events plus the kitchen sink thrown at it, thrown at the MCs, therefore us, and I suspect the next book is going to be… well, it’s going to be something heavier. Tres Trouble. Tres Drama. Tres Aggravation! It could do with some paring back but I much prefer this than minimal connection or no feelings at all. I mostly mention it because if you’re late to this party, well, gird your freaking loins. Onwards I go. I suspect Criminal Past is going to be a thing I have to endure (rather than enjoy) if I’m to get to the next level without giving up, and I have no desire to give up. Wish me luck. 4.5 Stars!