Story Rating: 4.5 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: John Solo
Length: 14 hours, 15 minutes
Jack Spiers is the newly elected U.S. president and has dedicated his political career to working to stop terrorism and bring about more international cooperation. But these are tumultuous times, between attacks in Europe, conflicts in the Middle East, uncertainty with Russia, and tensions with China. While Jack is working to make the U.S. a leader in dealing with the threats, there are those inside the government who are working to stop him and advance their own agenda.
Special Agent Ethan Reichenbach is the lead secret service agent on Jack’s detail. Ethan has seen presidents come and go over the years, and he knows that keeping a professional distance between agent and protectee is critical. He doesn’t expect things to be different with Jack, but the down-to-earth man surprises him and Ethan finds Jack incredibly appealing. However, not only is it against every rule for the men to even be friends, let alone more, Jack is straight and Ethan knows better than to get involved with him. Despite Ethan’s determination to keep his distance, however, the men become friends and the attraction Ethan feels continues to grow. He knows he is breaking all the rules just by spending time with Jack. And when Ethan admits his feelings, and Jack surprises him by returning his interest, Ethan could be fired for their relationship. Yet he finds that he can’t stay away and Ethan and Jack’s love continues to grow and bloom, albeit in secret.
Even as their relationship develops, the situation in the world is becoming increasingly dire. A rogue black ops group continues to work against Jack, and soon his life is in danger. Ethan will do anything to protect Jack, but when his own life is on the line, he may not be able to save Jack as well. Now, Ethan is racing against time to protect the man he loves — and keep the world from peril in the process.
I am a huge fan of Tal Bauer’s writing and have loved so many of the author’s books. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the Executive Office series, particularly as Michelle has reviewed it here for us, so I was really excited to see it come out in audio and get a chance to check it out. I found this story to have so many of the hallmarks of Bauer’s great writing, including an exciting suspense plot, great character development, and rich detail.
Bauer does a great job here balancing the relationship end and the thriller side of the plot. I just loved Jack and Ethan together. There is such a strong connection I could feel right from the start, and I liked the way the men move from friendship to more. The story is in dual POV and we see Ethan’s feelings grow, even as Jack is oblivious to the depth of Ethan’s feelings, or really able to understand his own. He sees Ethan at first as just a really great friend, someone with whom he wants to spend all this time, and a person he is more comfortable with than almost anyone. It isn’t until Ethan admits his feelings for Jack that Jack is able to recognize his own attraction to Ethan. I appreciated how this all develops, as Jack takes time to really think about his own feelings and his attraction to a man for the first time. It takes a bit for him to really understand that what he assumed was friendship is actually something much stronger. But once these guys accept their feelings fully, their relationship is intense and quite lovely. They are so intensely dedicated to one another and determined to do anything to protect and care for each other. I just loved them as a couple and I am really excited to explore their relationship development in future books.
From a suspense end, Bauer really crafts an intense political thriller. We know from the start that a General Madigan is plotting against Jack and his political goals, and we also know that he has a mole who is working with him (but not who that mole is). So as we are watching Jack’s political maneuvering, we are at the same time seeing Madigan working against him. I enjoyed the tension here as we know people are plotting against Jack, but he and Ethan are totally unaware. At times, keeping all the international politics straight was a little challenging, but mostly it all worked for me. I found the story engaging and really exciting, particularly as things heat up with life or death situations for both Jack and Ethan. There are some really intense moments, and I found this one to be a great thriller.
I listened to this story in audio with narrator John Solo. Overall, I think Solo does a nice job with the story. Jack and Ethan’s voices fit their personalities and their characters. Even among the large cast, I could tell who was speaking, which is key given how many people are in the story. The pacing works well and Solo does a good job with both the quiet and more intense moments.
Where I think the audio suffered somewhat was with the some of the side character voices. There is a large, international cast here, including three prominent side characters — one Chinese, one Saudi Arabian, and one Russian. Unfortunately, the accents here really didn’t work for me. They did not feel accurate to my (albeit untrained) ear, nor were they consistent. Accents floated in and out, as well as changing, often within the same paragraph of dialog. The Chinese and Russian leaders’ voices, in particular, just felt totally off. I am not sure I would have even known what their ethnicities were supposed to be from their voices if I hadn’t been told. They also both had a constant menacing sound when they spoke, even when they weren’t supposed to be mad, almost like a Bond villain. When they would say “Mr. President” I almost expected a cackle to come out. I can appreciate that not every narrator can do I wide variety of accents, and most of the folks here are American so it was only an occasional issue, but it was significant enough to be distracting when these characters spoke.
Solo also has a somewhat dramatic style and, at times, the narration seemed over the top in intensity in places I wasn’t sure totally fit. Nothing major, but just something that caught my attention now and then. Overall, however, I think the narration is solid and I wouldn’t hesitate to listen to more in this series in audio when it releases.
So I am really glad I got a chance to start this series and I just loved this book and these characters. I found myself thinking about this book long after it was over. It is exciting to know that there is so much more to come and I can’t wait to check it all out.