I’ve known for a while that of all the reviewers at AAR, my opinions of books most closely align with fellow reviewer (and my editor) Caz Owens. In fact, her reviews are one of the ways I found our site in the first place! These days, we’re often reading and reviewing many of the same books, and sometimes duking it out for a book we both want. Occasionally, she’s wrong and likes a book that isn’t very good, or hates a book that really is great (ha!) – (no, Em is just misguided about those particular titles! – Caz) but most of the time she gets things right, and we feel similarly about the books we read.
A little over a year ago, Caz started recommending the audio version of the Hazard and Somerset series by Gregory Ashe. I didn’t know anything about Mr. Ashe, but I was reading a lot of romantic suspense and my interest was piqued. I read Caz’s review of the audio of Pretty Pretty Boys, the blurb for the book, and a couple of reviews by other readers I follow. Readers loved the tension between the two protagonists – Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset – but bemoaned the lack of romance and potential slow burn as the series progressed. I also noticed the book was shelved as an LGBTQ mystery at Amazon, with nary a ‘romance’ label in sight. I was tempted, but distracted by my insane TBR pile, and ultimately I decided to pass on the series.
A brief – but relevant – digression.
I used to read a lot of critically acclaimed fiction. I read the Pulitzer and Booker prize winners. I followed the New York Times and Wall Street Journal book reviews. And then I read Outlander, and discovered the That’s Normal blog (Confessions of a Romance Reader). When That’s Normal recommended I read Sarah Maclean and her Rules of Scoundrels series, I read it! These days, I’m all critical-schmitical. You go be miserable and sad or enlightened and smarty-pants on your own time. I’m ride or die for the happily ever after, and if a book doesn’t have it, there’s a very small, itsy bitsy chance I’m going to read it. Folks, let’s just keep it real, I’m not going to… unless the book is a mystery-suspense series – chock full of tiny, wonderful glimmers of love, with a probable HEA at the end of the line. See: Sebastian St. Cyr, by C.S. Harris, or Lady Sherlock, by Sherry Thomas.
Fast forward to two weeks ago. I had Audible credits about to expire and I couldn’t think of any books I was eager to listen to. I picked up the audio version of Pretty, Pretty Boys based on a vague memory of Caz’s recommendation. Long story, not short: I didn’t like the narrator, but I was hooked on Emery and John-Henry. I abandoned the audiobooks and glommed the six book series. My sadness this morning – knowing I’ve finished the series – is real. (But there is more to come! – Caz) In fact, I just reread the last chapter all over again. And then I sat down to tell you I LOVED THE SERIES, and I LOVED HAZARD AND SOMERSET, and I AM A GREGORY ASHE FAN, and EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH SHOULD READ THIS SERIES, TOO. Caz was right. Again.
The Hazard and Somerset series is addictive, thrilling, and engrossing. Each book offers a standalone mystery linked to a plot that evolves over the course of the series. Emery and John-Henry, detectives for the Wahredua police department, grew up together as enemies. John-Henry was Wahredua’s golden boy. Emery was gay, awkward and tormented by a trio of bullies. When they find themselves partnered up after Emery returns to his hometown to punish the men who drove his first love to suicide (after losing his job as a detective in St. Louis (another mystery)), Somers (Somerset’s preferred nickname) is thrilled; Hazard is horrified. For good reason.
In Pretty Pretty Boys (their first case together), we learn more about the complicated and terrible history that binds Hazard and Somers, and how their past is linked to current events in Wahredua (and the overarching plot that links the series). There’s plenty to unpack in the first novel; Mr. Ashe masterfully reveals pieces and chunks of the history between Hazard and Somers, while introducing us an intriguing cast of recurring secondary characters, and crafting a complicated and compelling mystery. It’s all marvelously done, and left me eager to keep reading the series. (Every book left me with this feeling). To fully enjoy and appreciate Hazard and Somerset, you must start at the beginning and read the books in order (Do this. Immediately.) The tension – between Hazard and Somers; between detectives at the Wahredua PD; between the town, its inhabitants, and the PD; between family members – ramps up in every book, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I was completely immersed in this fictional world.
But back to the tiny digression. THIS IS A LOVE STORY, MR. ASHE. And if I have any complaint about the series, it would be the too brief moments of romantic intimacy between Emery and John-Henry. Don’t get me wrong, they’re together all the time – and Mr. Ashe does a superb job rendering their personal and professional relationship (funny, awkward, tense and intense) – but the novels need more romance (the kissy kissy kind). I’m a more, more, more kind of reader and Mr. Ashe is a less, less, less kind of writer. Friends, he’s stingy with the lovin’ and he left this reader craving, needing more. I’m not sure why this author shies away from the romance label, but it’s a disappointment. Let’s keep it real. Hazard and Somers LOVE each other; let’s celebrate it instead of hiding it.
The case: Is Hazard and Somerset a romantic suspense series?
Facts: Hazard loves Somers. Somers loves Hazard.
The verdict: Yes.
Case notes: Hazard and Somers are awesome together – snarky, sexy, funny, sweet, awkward; every book in the series is a B+ or better; Mr. Ashe is a terrific writer.
~ Em Wittmann
Note: Our review of Paternity Case, book three in the series can be found HERE.