Tom Brewer is the newest D.C. federal judge. He lives a quiet, lonely life with his dog Etta Mae for company. As a young man in college, Tom looked forward to a life where he could be open with his sexuality. But ever since he was told quite clearly he could not have his career and be gay, he has hidden himself away in the closet. It is now 25 years later, and at age 46, Tom feels like his chance at love and happiness has pretty much passed him by. That is until he gets to know U.S. Marshal Mike Lucciano.
Mike is assigned to the courthouse on protective detail for judges and juries. After a bad break up, Mike ends up confiding in Tom and the two begin to get to know one another. A friendship grows between them, but Tom is still playing it straight, and Mike assumes his attraction is one sided. But as the men spend more time together, Tom begins to see the life he has always wanted right in front of him when he looks at Mike. The idea of coming out is terrifying after all this time, but Tom realizes that if he dares to step out of the closet, he might just be able to have the love and happiness he has always dreamed about. And when he opens up to Mike with the truth, the connection between them grows into the start of something real.
Just as these guys are making their way together, however, an act of terrorism leads to an international crisis, bringing the U.S. and Russia to the brink of war. Tom finds himself right in the middle of the chaos as the case against the killer lands right in his courtroom. Suddenly, just as Tom was ready to take those first steps out of the closet, his life is under a microscope as the world watches the trial, and his job performance, with a critical eye. Tom’s reputation as a judge is on the line as his every move is criticized. He and Mike have to hide their relationship or risk Mike getting pulled from Tom’s protective detail. Between the conspiracies and the cover ups that seem to extend to the highest reaches of government, not to mention a world on the brink of war, Tom and Mike are just barely hanging on. And as Tom’s life is threatened, things get even worse. Now Tom and Mike must rely on one another for support, even if it means disclosing their feelings for one another, if they are going to make it through the crisis.
Hush by Tal Bauer is an excellent story that is filled with suspense and intrigue, as well as one of the most lovely relationships I have read in a while. I loved Bauer’s A Time to Rise (it was one of my 2016 Annual Favorites), but this one blew me away even more.
This story pretty much divides into two parts, with the first half or so focusing on the developing relationship between Mike and Tom, and the second focusing on the trial. This is a very long story (Amazon lists it at 672 pages) and so honestly the first portion could almost be a book unto itself. I was completely captivated by the developing love story between Tom and Mike. I have been reading in this genre for close to ten years and I have read many coming out stories, but I can honestly say Bauer conveys Tom’s experience in such a thought provoking and meaningful way, it was unlike anything I have read. We learn about Tom as a young man full of life and full of hope for his future, and then see how some critical words just decimated him before he even really got started. Tom came of age during the AIDS crisis, during a time when gay men routinely faced abuse by law enforcement, where being gay could regularly lose you a job or even your life. He had no one to model himself upon, and when he was told he had to make a choice between his career and his sexuality, Tom pushed himself back in the closet and there he has stayed for 25 years.
What Bauer does so well here is help us not only understand why Tom remained closeted so long, but really see the way he views the world. Tom is so painfully lonely, he wants love and partnership and doesn’t believe he will ever have a chance. Then he sees Mike, and not only begins to fall for him, but let’s himself see Mike living openly as a gay man as a model for the life he could be living himself. But even as he begins to take those first tiny steps out of the closet, we can see Tom’s wonder and confusion as he isn’t sure how to relate to this world where he can be open and live his life. It is so rewarding as a reader to see him takes these first steps, to begin to adjust to the idea that he might just be able to have all these things that he wants so badly, if he only can be brave enough to reach for them. These men are so sweet and lovely together, you can’t help but root for them. They are both lonely, both looking for companionship and a connection neither thought they could have. And watching them find it is incredibly rewarding.
The second part of the book is where the suspense takes off. I think it is really interesting what Bauer has done here, because rather than combine the romance and the thriller sides of the story, he has Mike and Tom very well settled into their (albeit new) relationship before the crisis hits. I think this is important, not just because it gives us time to really sink into the romance, but it also helps us understand why these men are willing to risk their jobs and their reputations and even their lives for one another. Rather than coming together in the midst of crisis, these men have found one another and are willing to do whatever it takes to stay together.
Ok, so the story of the court case and the resulting global crisis is incredible. I was on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages. Like I said, this is a LONG book, and yet I couldn’t put it down, I was so captivated by the story. It is not just watching Tom and Mike navigate this difficult situation, but we have a legal and political thriller that kept me guessing and completely engrossed until the last page. We know the basics — who did the actual shooting. But beyond that, no one knows who is really behind it all, whether the accused are really guilty, and how far reaching the conspiracy goes. On top of that, Russia and the United States are coming to the brink of war, and the political landscape is terrifying. In the midst of trying to navigate the case itself, Tom knows that the fate of both nations may very well rest on his shoulders and how he oversees the trial. It is intense and exciting and I am just blown away by how Bauer puts all these pieces together. It is twisty and complicated, but never so convoluted that I couldn’t follow along, even as more layers are revealed.
Truly, I can’t say enough good things about this story. I loved the romance, the suspense was thrilling and exciting, and the court case was fascinating. Bauer manages to create a moving, beautiful romance with real poignancy, and combine it with a first class legal and political thriller. This is a long book, but I found it rewarding on every page. I can highly recommend Hush and hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.
P.S. After talking to Bauer, it looks like this standalone will be turned into a series and I am so excited as Mike’s best friend will be getting his own story.