Emery Hazard has pretty much everything under control. He and his fiancé, John-Henry Somerset, are more in love than ever, despite the stress of wedding preparations hanging over them. His business as a private investigator is growing. He’s even enjoying time with his growing circle of friends. The only major problem on the horizon is whether or not he and Somers will be dancing at the wedding reception.
When Mitchell Martin shows up in his office, though, everything changes. The year before, Mitchell was abducted and tortured by a sadistic killer known only as the Keeper of Bees. Now Mitchell is convinced that the Keeper has come back, and he wants to hire Hazard to protect him.
While Hazard works to keep Mitchell safe, Somers must adjust to changes at work. A spate of new hires has disrupted the Wahredua Police Department, and Somers finds himself locked in a struggle to determine how the department will grow and evolve, with long-term consequences that will affect the town for years to come.
Then a woman is found murdered, and she has been staged and posed in a way that is eerily similar to the Keeper of Bee’s former victims. As Hazard and Somers race to prevent more deaths, Hazard fears they are already too late; the Keeper of Bees has been ahead of them the whole time.
Gregory Ashe fangirls Caz and Em inhaled read this final instalment in the Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords series and are here to share their thoughts on the novel and the series.
Caz: So. Here we are. The Keeper has been unmasked, the loose ends tied up and Ree and John have ridden off into the sunset (although not permanently – Mr. Ashe promises more stories for them in the not too distant future.) Before we get on to talking about the book in general, let’s talk about the Keeper – we’ve had the odd conversation about who it might have been, but were never 100% sure. Did you guess correctly?
Em: No, I didn’t. The Keeper IS someone I suspected (and never liked), and frankly I was glad the villain wasn’t who I suspected. Truthfully, I loved everything about the investigation in this book up until the big reveal I thought it was a bit anticlimactic and too similar to the end of the original series. Mr. Ashe is a clever writer; unfortunately, I think he tried to be too clever this time out and was only partly successful.
Caz: I kind of agree it was a bit of an anti-climax BUT I think that was always going to be the case – we had a fairly small pool of suspects and it’s difficult to keep deflecting suspicion; I remember feeling the same about the reveal in the Seven of Spades books. But ultimately, I was more invested in the how and why rather than the who, which was why I was happy to go with it. I had my suspicions – like you said in your review of Wayward, it was going to turn out to be someone close to Hazard and Somers (I trusted Mr. Ashe not to take some weird turn and introduce a character we’d never met before!) , so whoever it was, it was going to hurt :(. I have to say that coming out of Wayward, I was 90% sure my lead suspect was the right one (and it was), but even then, once I started reading this book, it was difficult to be completely sure until somewhere past the half-way point.
Em: Did Ashe answer the ‘why’ for you? That didn’t work for me because the Keeper’s reason for focusing on Hazard felt a bit flimsy. That’s a lot of torture and murder because of…Ha! Not going to say.
Caz: I’m not sure it was answered perfectly, but given who the Keeper turned out to be, and what we’d already learned about them, I’d expected it to focus on the ‘game’.
So now we’ve got the Keeper business out of the way, let’s talk about the guys. They’re the heart and soul of these stories after all, and I was SO GLAD that by the time we get to this book, they’re on track with their personal lives and relationship. After all the crap they’ve been through – especially in the last two books – I LOVED seeing them both learning from all the difficulties they experienced there.
Em: Yes, THE BEST parts of this series always feature them figuring out their way forward. Their fledgling efforts to communicate rather than fight, and to be honest in the moment, were absolutely lovely. I love their conversations, and the way Somers knows exactly what Hazard is thinking – yet finds his ridiculous explanations charming. And that Hazard can predict every move Somers makes. They take each other’s eccentricities in stride and are so loving and sweet with each other.
Caz: And let’s not forget Hazard’s views on fiction:
“I think people who read novels are fantasists in desperate need of emotional dope to anesthetize them against the reality of their meaningless existence.”
“I read novels.”
“I know, but we’re working on that.”
And I laughed out loud when, helping Darnell and Dulac move into their new house, Hazard spots an m/m romance novel in a box:
“John, that looks like a romance novel.”
“The guys on the cover are hot. I bet they do all sorts of dirty things to each other.”
A discussion which ends with Somers thinking he might need to start borrowing books from Darnell!
Em: THIS IS SO AWESOME. I love Somers so much. #pandaoutfit
But this is my favorite part of the novel because it is such an ordinary moment for Hazard – he’s taking care of his daughter (OMG he’s a great dad), and routinely thinking such a bizarrely specific thing about a total stranger:
After breakfast, Hazard took Evie to preschool. Then he went to his office… Hazard passed the Magic Dragon Bakery—ignoring the wave from the owner, a septuagenarian pothead who was perpetually trying to lull him into a false sense of security with sweets—and took the stairs to the second-floor landing.
I giggled thinking about Hazard telling Somers to get a candy bar or something when he wants to distract him. He’s a total candy pusher and yet so judgmental about it!
Caz: I also like the way that, as the series has progressed, they’ve done that “couples thing” (as Somers’ dad points out) where they’re each absorbing the characteristics of the other. Hazard thinks “What Would Somers Do?” and people are telling Somers he’s starting to sound like Hazard. It’s subtle, but it’s there – and I really liked that even when they were on the outs in the previous books, they could still admire and admit to the good traits they each possess.
Em: Yeah, I think Ashe does a lovely job showcasing how they initially appear as total opposites – and truly, they are – but once they become a couple, they’ve slowly incorporated the best parts of each other into their daily lives. Meanwhile, they largely dismiss things they don’t like. Somers largely ignores Hazard’s inability to just accept something as great or hilarious or good because lots of people think it is, and Hazard knows Somers is a slob and mostly forgives it – while he acts as if Nico’s messiness is a criminal offense.
Caz: Hah! Yes, it’s brilliant and so skilfully done. Gregory Ashe is such an incredibly insightful writer, and he’s built this relationship over eleven books in a way that feels completely organic and natural. It’s an amazing feat, TBH. I honestly think Hazard and Somers have become one of the truly iconic couples in the genre.
Em: Turning our attention to the case, I had some trouble with some of the little details that Mr. Ashe usually nails. People not answering phone calls or checking voicemails, the over-the-top bigotry/racism of a major character (I don’t have a problem with the characterization; but the scene wherein it’s revealed seemed totally random), locked in a room with a gun but no way out, ahem… lots of little things bothered me this time out, and distracted me from the flow of the novel.
Caz: The interview scene you’re talking about felt off for me, too. I get the character’s reasons for doing what they did (sort of) but I thought that sort of thing went out in the seventies! And I agree, there were a few other inconsistencies that didn’t sit right.
Em: Although the Keeper is vicious and petty (some of the scenes in The Rational Faculty turned my stomach), the characterization is another disconnect in THIS story because in the later scenes he’s not nearly so evil. The early murder feels like an outlier; why didn’t the Keeper torture and kill the newest captives? The Keeper has two of them for days!? What was the point of keeping them alive??!!
Caz: My take was that it was to draw Hazard out. He was the ‘prize’; the killings weren’t the end, they were just the means to get him invested and to play the game. The Machiavellian aspects of the plot are the parts that I thought worked best; the way the Keeper gradually removed all the pieces from the board, as it were, were the parts that kept ratcheting up the tension, so by the time I got to the middle and he pulls a real doozie to try to get Somers out ot the way, I was on the edge of my seat. The freezer find was a particularly nasty little bit.
Em: Did you expect the ending and DID YOU MASSIVELY LOVE IT SO MUCH OR WHAT? Especially the very specific development in Somers professional life – paving the way for so much more storytelling to come. A masterstroke.
Caz: I did expect one thing and guessed at the other. When I read the teaser chapters for Keeper at the end of Wayward, I thought to myself, “By the end, Somers is either going to have resigned from the force and gone to work with Hazard as a PI, or he’s going to end up as Chief of Police.” I’m not going to say which, but one of those guesses was the correct one!
Em: I thought the same. Ashe had me doubting early on though.
Even if this wasn’t as gruesome and horrifying as I expected it to be, and the Keeper was an anti-climatic ‘surprise!,’ TKoB is nearly flawless, and gets an A-.. Hazard and Somers are terrific, the pacing is excellent – I was glued to this story, and it beautifully sets up more stories to come. It’s another Desert Isle Keeper for me!
Caz: I blew through it in one sitting and while yes, I agree there were inconsistencies with the characterisation and some aspects of the plot, I was completely immersed in it and I think I put it down once! This whole series has been fantastic – I don’t think any of the reviews for individual books have gone below an A-, and I’m going with an A- for this one as well. In spite of the niggles, it’s a terrific end to this series, Hazard and Somers are in a really good place, and I can’t wait to see what Mr. Ashe has in store for them next.
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