The Hazard and Somerset Series by Gregory Ashe

When Helen Wheatley asked for recommendations for novels to read over Christmas, someone recommended the Hazard and Somerset mysteries, for which many thanks. I picked up on it, ordered some, and I’ve been immersed in them ever since. Emery Hazard returns to his hometown in Missouri for a job as a detective where he ends up being paired with John Henry-Somerset, the man he had a crush on since high school, and part of a gang of homophobic bullies who had carved a tattoo on his chest with a knife. As the series unfurls, they both deal with the past and the changing circumstances of each, as Hazard pairs off with someone else and Somerset reunites with his wife and daughter. But the sexual and romantic tension between them continues until eventually they get together, marry, adopt a teenager and along with Somerset’s daughter form a new type of family.  The crimes are all set in a small town in Missouri and paint an interesting picture of small-town life in the Midwest, a place where everyone knows each other but crimes are small-town version of national conflicts: the novels deal with political corruption; the police is in the pocket of the mayor and can’t be trusted; the religious right has armed training camps nearby where some of the police are involved; land developers are entwined with investment companies in more cosmopolitan cities are willing to kill for profit; there are paedophile rings and sexual slavery; meth labs and murder. But these all take place in a small town where Hazard is the only out public person, there is one high school, and one place the cool teenagers hang out in, at the one mall. Hazard and Somerset are drawn straight out of Honcho stereotypes, but with feelings. The developing romance is straight out of Harlequin though with some sexuall explicit scenes; a result of, I understand, readers’ demands (mostly female) They have an interesting structure. Each novel solves a particular murder but it’s  part of a larger web that gets that gets drawn out and resolved over a series of five novels. The writing is at best adequate, the characterisations are cliché-ish but the books are nonetheless unputdownable: the plotting is superb.  And in spite of the writing, one does get a sense that this is a small-town world the writer knows and makes worth knowing; and there’s also a fascinating utopian dimension to the fantasies of love, sex, family, relationships and social justice that the novels also strongly evoke. I’ve now read eight more. Gregory Ash is churning them out at the rate of three or four a year. For which I’m grateful, as I plan on reading all of them.

José Arroyo

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