Rating: 4 stars
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Today, Jay and Michelle are doing a Buddy Review of The Night Of by Tal Bauer. After the overview, be sure to check out both of their reviews!
Secret Service Agent Sean Avery is patrolling the grounds of Camp David during an international summit. When a shot is fired, he discovers the worst. President Steven Baker is dead, apparently by his own hand, while alone in a supposedly secure cabin. It is a devastating failure for Sean and his fellow agents, particularly as no one knows how the president possibly had access to a gun.
When Sean is called to meet with Vice President Jonathan Sharp, things become even more troublesome. Jonathan and Steven were best friends and Jonathan is taking the loss incredibly hard. Sean and Jonathan also have a complicated past. They had a tentative relationship building, but something happened a year ago that tore the men apart, leaving Sean avoiding Jonathan and moving off the presidential detail. So he isn’t particularly eager to have to face Jonathan right now. But Sean is stunned when Jonathan claims to have evidence that Steven didn’t actually kill himself, but was instead murdered.
With neither of them knowing who might have been involved in the assassination, Sean and Jonathan realize no one is safe to trust. Jonathan wants Sean to investigate the president’s death and see if they can figure out what really happened. But with a murderer on the loose, Jonathan is a prime target, particularly as he has evidence to suggest the suicide was a cover up. So Sean is determined to protect Jonathan no matter what the cost — even if that means staying with him at every possible moment.
As the men spend more time together, they begin to reconcile their past and realize that the connection they felt is still strong. Sean and Jonathan even begin to imagine a life they could have together. But whoever killed the president isn’t leaving any loose ends, and if they can’t track the killer down soon, they may both find their lives on the line.
The set up for this one was so juicy, with the president killed in one of the most secure places on earth, while supposedly alone in his cabin. Somehow he had a gun; somehow someone managed to not only kill him, but escape undetected. It is a delicious premise and I was all in for this mystery. I think Bauer does a great job keeping this case interesting and exciting. There is great detail about Camp David (including a map of the grounds) that really sets the stage well. I think things are nicely twisty, and while I had some vague ideas who might be responsible on a broad level, the details of how it all played out totally took me by surprise. Yet, at the same time, in hindsight I see where the groundwork was laid. I will say that I didn’t feel quite the sense of urgency or danger that I would have wanted in a suspense story. I never really felt enough like the guys were in actual danger or that things were building to a fever pitch. But I still enjoyed the mystery side of things and think Bauer pulled together a really engaging plot.
As the story starts, we don’t know the backstory between Sean and Jonathan, just that something awful occurred a year ago for which Sean blames himself. Bauer cleverly presents the story just from Sean’s POV, so we don’t get Jonathan’s side of things until the men finally hash it out. Things stalled a little bit early on for me as Sean seems to be spinning around, just thinking about what happened and stressing about it, but without us knowing exactly what occurred. But once it all comes out, things move forward really nicely with Sean and Jonathan. They are sexy and intense together, with a little bit of a dominance dynamic between them. Since the men had fallen for each other prior to the start of the book, when they get back together, things are pretty heated almost immediately, so there is not much in the way of relationship building as much as a “reawakening” of things between them. But I liked these guys together, particularly the way Sean provides that comfort and support for Jonathan, a fairly stoic man who takes a lot on his shoulders.
There were some areas where I struggled, as things just didn’t totally make sense to me. For example, I found it hard to understand how Sean is able to operate completely independently from the rest of the Secret Service when protecting Jonathan. Sean decides there is no one they can trust, so he will take over Jonathan’s security on his own. He stops reporting to his boss and just runs the presidential security on his own, seemingly without any coordination with the other agents, despite not even being currently on the presidential detail. We know that Jonathan doesn’t trust anyone else, so I get why he wants Sean involved. And we do get a nod to the fact as president Jonathan can influence (or even decide) how his detail works. But the Secret Service doesn’t know about the suspected murder, and somehow this random agent just decides to stop reporting to work and abscond off with the president and everyone is fine? Not to mention that he is one man protecting the President of the United States in the days after the former president supposedly killed himself with a gun he shouldn’t have had. Sean doesn’t appear to ever report to anyone or tell the rest of the detail where he is going with the president, and there are no back up agents providing support for the president’s personal protection along with Sean. Sean just puts Jonathan in (the front seat!) of a car and drives off with him to wherever they decide to go. I really struggled because every time they’d just leave without even telling anyone where they were going it just threw me out of the story.
We also learn about a time when the men are on an international trip and they walk out of the resort where the summit is being held to go to a remote cove to hook up. Again, the (at the time) Vice President just leaves the protected area with one agent in a foreign country in the middle of a high stakes meeting and no one is concerned where he is? Not to mention that Sean isn’t there to protect Jonathan, he is there to have sex with him. While nearly blackout drunk. And he is the Vice President’s sole protection. So again, I struggled here because Bauer is usually so good with these kinds of details and here things just didn’t make sense to me. Maybe it is all perfectly normal and accurate, but it just felt hard to envision.
I also wish we got more information into Sean’s background. He was apparently military police, but I wanted more of a sense of how he has the background to manage this high stakes investigation. Not that I didn’t believe he could, especially because he has information the other investigators aren’t privy to. I just wished for more background development on him to set the stage.
Despite these issues, I really liked this story. I found the set up fascinating and I really enjoyed the reveal of what is going on and how the murder happened. I also enjoyed Sean and Jonathan together and there is a really nice sweetness, along with a great sexiness between them. So if you like mystery/suspense, definitely check this one out.
I am always ready for another Tal Bauer book and just hearing the author’s name is enough to get my interest. The action starts early in this book as Sean is the lead agent for the Secret Service with the president visiting Camp David. When a shot is fired, it’s Sean’s worst nightmare come true as the president is killed and it’s assumed it’s suicide. There were arrows pointed right away at certain people and events and I was a little taken aback that there were such visible clues so early on. Not that it’s an easy case, as Sean winds up deep in a journey to uncover the truth of what happened to the president and I always do like the way Bauer gives glimpses into the behind the scenes for the Secret Service.
When the book opens, it’s been 366 days since Sean has heard Jonathan’s voice. He can’t help being reminded of the man constantly as Jonathan is the Vice President of the United States. Sean thought they had a chance at a relationship and Sean fell hard for Jonathan, but Sean can’t forgive himself for what happened that one night. Even without Jonathan being on page at first, it’s clear how much Sean cares for him and how much Sean is suffering, but it takes some time to learn what happened. The book is only from Sean’s point of view and we do learn Jonathan’s side of things when they finally talk about it, but I was missing getting to know Jonathan more as even at the end of the book, he didn’t feel like a main character to me and Sean dominated most of the book. I did like Sean’s voice though, especially when we are introduced to him in the beginning of the story.
The book moves quickly to the case and Sean takes the lead for the off the record investigation into what happened to the president. He seems to be able to handle an investigation of this magnitude even though it’s not clear what experience he has in investigating and he breaks protocol often. There are times where it’s obvious and it’s called out as Sean investigates, but there are other times, both in the past and present, that he potentially puts Jonathan in harm’s way by not following procedure or doing what he wants and then not checking in with his superiors.
The story was still intriguing with Sean and Jonathan playing well off of each other as Jonathan longs to put down all of his control in the bedroom and Sean is ready to provide Jonathan what he needs. Their personal relationship gets worked into them unraveling the murder and the mystery is a true focal point of the story.
I expect certain elements when there is a murder and a mystery and I did enjoy this one, but I never did feel that urgency and I was still looking for those stellar moments that were just out of reach. I also would have liked to have seen the men a little more into the future from where their story ended.
It’s easy to get caught up in a Tal Bauer novel and for a genre murder/mystery, this is a good author to consider.