Custody Battles (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand Book 2) by Gregory Ashe (Published by Hodgkin and Blount. Audio released January 18, 2022, narrated by Tristan James, 12 hours 12 minutes in length. Ebook released December 3, 2021, 434 pages.) A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Some parents would die for their children. Others will do a whole lot worse.
Emery Hazard and his husband, John-Henry Somerset, are settling into their new normal – at home, with the latest addition to their family, and at work, as Somers adapts to his new role and Hazard manages his expanding agency. The only thing Hazard is worried about is getting through dinner with his in-laws.
When his father-in-law requests that Hazard and Somers join him for a weekend deer hunting, it sounds simple enough: Spend a night camping, give their foster son a chance to spend time with his friend, and – possibly – prevent a parental kidnapping. But nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. At deer camp, Hazard and Somers find themselves drawn into a toxic family feud between parents battling for custody.
After the husband is shot and killed deep in the forest, detectives from the sheriff’s department are convinced that the killer is a local extremist – a member of the neo-Nazi Ozark Volunteers. Hazard and Somers, though, aren’t so sure, and as they probe deeper into the killing, they find that many people had a reason to want the victim dead, and the killing itself might not be what it seems.
Then a drive-by shooting almost claims the lives of Hazard, Somers, and the victim’s wife. The killer’s work isn’t done, and Hazard and Somers must race to find the truth before the killer strikes again.
When we last left Emery and John Henry, the men were settling into married life. They had a new foster son and were integrating him in with their daughter Evie. Everything was going swimmingly. Until John Henry’s parents show up. Now, Emery has a contentious relationship with his in-laws. His father-in-law in particular. I loathe the man. And I have to say, Tristan James’ interpretation of the man makes me hate him more. A great narrator can do that. As he made me hate one of the other villains in the book.
To me, the title was self-explanatory. Of course the custody battle has to do with their new family member, Colt. The teenager came from a horrific home with a father who regularly abused him and regularly abandoned him. Emery and John Henry taking in the boy was a lucky break for the kid – even if he doesn’t always appreciate how good he’s got it. His treatment of John Henry put my teeth on edge and I wanted to figuratively slap the kid. John Henry didn’t deserve the abuse.
Anyway, so Emery’s father-in-law is imposing on the men. John Henry is facing a blackmail threat. And everyone is supposed to pack up and go deer hunting. A very southern thing to do. Now, as an animal rights supporter, this part of the story didn’t sit well with me. Until the murder. Talk about a guy who deserved to die. I mean, all life is sacred and all that, but some guys are just scum.
The case isn’t within their jurisdiction, but of course Emery and John Henry get dragged into it. And they’re almost shot for their trouble. But things aren’t as they seem (are they ever?) and as the story progresses, I wasn’t sure who was on who’s side. I did know there were some loathsome characters who I suspect are going to be back. I shudder. The men solve the murder, almost get killed, and everything turns out okay in the end. Except John Henry still has the blackmailing problem. Oh well, that works itself out as well.
I have to say there were a couple of times when I questioned the men’s intelligences. They both made some dumb moves – although John Henry was particularly annoying this time. Oh well, the story was intriguing, there were secondary characters I hated, and the men strengthened their relationship. Things with Colt might have even gotten better. For now.
I know there are more books to come and I’ll pounce on them as well. And I’ll shout out to Tristan James who just does a fabulous job with narrating this series. He’s perfect for it.
9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommended) – Compares to 4.5/5 Stars
I swear this author is trying to break me with the conflicts he is inflicting on his already established couples. Hazard and Somerset have already weathered a lot of storms in their relationship and in business, and the hits just keep on coming. Some new changes for the couple came in the last book, when a teenage boy showed up on their doorstep claiming Hazard was his father. Whatever the truth of that claim, Hazard feels an affinity with the struggling teen and the two men take the kid in to their home.
Colt has become a big part of the story at this point. His idolization of Hazard and his blatant dislike of Somers puts a strain on their relationship. Hazard doesn’t accommodate Colt’s bad behavior is often “bad guy” when it comes to parenting. The last thing Somers wants is another reason for Colt to hate him, so he tries to be the “good guy,” which means taking all the insults and disrespect. Somers is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t in Colt’s eyes. I feel for the guy, but that doesn’t stop me shaking my head at his decision to keep a blackmailer secret from his husband. As for Hazard, I found him to be drier and crankier than ever. Some of his comments may have been meant as sarcasm, but it is getting harder to tell. Still, somehow when it’s just Hazard and Somers, I can still feel their love for one another, so I’m really hoping that they will make it through their new challenges.
While they are trying to find some sort of harmony in their personal lives, Somers’ dad asks Somers and Hazard to go on a weekend hunting trip to keep an eye on a soon to be divorced couple and their son to make sure one parent doesn’t try to kidnap their kid. On this trip, Colt gets to spend some time with his good friend Ash (bonus), until the soon to be divorced dad is found dead and there is a mystery to be solved. Immediately, there is a suspect in the crazy Ozark Volunteer neighbor, and Hazard is hired as a PI to clear the suspect’s name.
The case is out of Somers jurisdiction as a Wahredua police chief, but he works with Hazard anyway. There is no end to the amount of people who wanted to see the victim dead, though, he wasn’t a nice guy. Following in his footsteps, is his son Junior. I mention Junior because he is a suspect and he has already had a conflict with Colt in the first book, and some of the things he does in this book are sociopathic and scary. I foresee him being a problem in the future books of this series. Colt’s biological dad also shows up in this book, and he is just a horrible guy. To my relief, he ends up in jail at the end of this book, as does the possible killer in the main mystery. I feel like there are a few questions whether the actual killer was brought to justice, but since the person arrested deserved to be for other reasons, I’m not losing sleep over the result.
The underlining theme of this story, the things a parent will do for their child. Whether it be allowing and making excuses for bad behavior, wrecking the car of the coach who cut your child from a sport, or possibly committing murder. It also explores the entitlement that results. At the end of this book, things do seem to be a bit better for Hazard, Somers, and Colt, but with this author, I am not sure what they will be put through in the next book. I want to bring up a few side characters that are worming their way into my heart. I said it in my review for book one, but I really want to see Hazard’s ex, Nico, get his chance at satisfying life and a romantic interest as well. Ash is a little stupid for Colt in this book, but there is a real sincerity to him, and I look forward to seeing if there is a possible connection for those two boys.
It’s no secret that Hazard and Somerset are my favorite couple written by Gregory Ashe. They were my first and hold a special place in my heart. I absolutely recommend this book, as well as the previous books and series, if you haven’t yet. The audiobooks narrated by Tristan James are even more awesome. His narration brings the story to life.
9/10 Pots of Gold (90% Recommended) – Compares to 4.5/5 Stars
I’m a long-time Midwesterner. I’ve lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, my current home. Aside from reading and writing (which take up a lot of my time), I’m an educator.
While I enjoy reading across many genres, my two main loves are mystery and speculative fiction. I used to keep a list of favorite books, but it changes so frequently that I’ve given up. I’m always looking for recommendations, though, so please drop me a line if you have something in mind!