Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Gregory Ashe - Criminal Past

It all starts to go wrong at the shooting gallery. Emery Hazard and his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset, just want to enjoy the day at the Dore County Independence Fair. At the shooting gallery, though, Hazard comes face to face with one of his old bullies: Mikey Grames. Even as a drugged-out wreck, Mikey is a reminder of all the ugliness in Hazard’s past. Worse, Mikey seems to know something Hazard doesn’t—something about the fresh tension brewing in town.
When the Chief of Police interrupts Hazard’s day at the fair, she has a strange request. She doesn’t want Hazard and Somers to solve a murder. She wants them to prevent one. The future victim? Mayor Sherman Newton—a man who has tried to have Hazard and Somers killed at least once.
Hazard and Somers try to work out the motive of the man threatening Newton, and the trail leads them into a conspiracy of corrupt law enforcement, white supremacists, and local politicians. As Hazard and Somers dig into the case, their search takes them into the past, where secrets have lain buried for twenty years.
Determined to get to the truth, Hazard finds himself racing for answers, but he discovers that sometimes the past isn’t buried very deep. Sometimes, it isn’t dead. Sometimes, it isn’t even past. And almost always, it’s better left alone.

Comment: This is the final installment in the original Hazard and Somerset series by Gregory Ashe. There are (apparently) two spin off series, which can be read as sequels to this one, but this book clearly marks the end of this arc, let's call it that.

In this story Hazard and Somerset finally gain closure on the big mysteries still surrounding their past and the reason why they were enemies. It's true they are now a couple but despite acknowledging mutual attraction and even real love, some unfinished business still influenced some of their personal thoughts. Now, as a new task is given to them by their boss, present and past collide and it's finally time to discover truths from all those years ago. Could it be that the event that propelled this whole thing, especially why Hazard returned to his home town, wasn't as simple as he was led to believe...?

I feel glad this part of the characters' story is done. It was quite a ride, especially considering the evolution of their relationship had more angst than happy scenes and the whole series was coated with this sense of doom, not because something bad was obvious from the get go as a possible path, but because one could feel the road to happiness would not be easy and probably would mean a lot of frustration.

I think most readers of romance - no matter its sub divisions - always hope the HEA is set in stone or that if not, the clues pointing out to that are more than expected, even if the characters make silly choices on the way. This happened here, both Hazard and Somerset came from a complicated past and underneath many things, there was the what if scenario had they done things differently. I would think this is heavier on Somerset's mind than Hazard's but while the psychological issues of their relationship, both then and now, is very complex and dealt with, I can't say it was truly satisfying... I suppose something has to be left over for the next series...

This book is certainly more focused on plot and all its loose threads since book #1. I can appreciate closure, both for me since I was invested in the story, and for the characters who deserve to close a chapter so they can go to the next with a clean slate (I hope!). Nevertheless, the solving things took a long time and I had the feeling the author really went in more directions with this book than with the others, which also increased page count. I don't mind this in general, but in this case, at some point, it started to feel a little repetitive.

I say this because several scenes took a long time to happen, they had plenty of description of both actions and emotions and I feel some more editing wouldn't have hurt the overall vibe. The tone was clearly darker than in other books and some of the things being described seemed heavier, more difficult to stomach, both in what was on the page and in what it entailed, psychological and humanely. The themes explored with how this whole thing is finally solved aren't easy and the author really went further when it comes to how intensely the characters dealt with things. Some chapters weren't easy to read and that affected how enjoyable the global experience of this book was.

I mean, I liked the author didn't cut back on possible backgrounds and didn't run from serious and complicated issues. but yes, this book felt the darkest of them all. So, of course, how could Hazard and Somerset be at a better place, but I surely hope that, even if continuing with this serious/angsty tone in future books, their relationship won't be too challenged, otherwise what would have been the point of creating such complex dynamics?

All in all, I liked some parts better than others and despite the things I found less appealing, I still consider this a good book, mostly because of the emotional investment I had already done.
Grade: 7/10

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