Story Rating: 4.25 stars
Audio Rating: 3.75 stars
Narrator: John Solo
Length: 6 hours, 35 minutes
It’s been about three months since President Jack Spiers and Secret Service Agent Ethan Reichenbach stopped a terror attack at the White House and exposed their relationship to the world. In the aftermath, Ethan has been exiled to the field office in Des Moines, working financial crimes, while he and Jack maintain their relationship long distance. It is not easy on either of the men, as they struggle with being apart. Given their jobs, they mostly must make do with weekend visits and it is taking its toll on both of them.
It doesn’t help that both Ethan and Jack are dealing with a lot of pressure at work. Ethan’s boss and co-workers aren’t thrilled to have him there to say the least, and they definitely let him know. The press follows his every move, which means Ethan can barely go to the grocery store anymore, let alone publicly work a case. But he has uncovered a counterfeit ring that seems to have ties to a much larger criminal enterprise in the area and he is determined to work the case, even if he has to do it from the shadows. For Jack, he is building the foundation for an alliance between the U.S. and Russia, as the Russian president surprises him by initiating a partnership. But the negotiations are intense on the global scale and war is on the horizon. With all that, Ethan and Jack need each other more than ever for support. Fortunately, they are able to carve out some special time together over Christmas to reconnect and reinforce their growing bond.
Interlude: First Noel is book 1.5 in the Executive Office series, taking place chronologically in the time between Enemies of the State and Enemy of My Enemy. However, it was actually released after book 2 as a holiday story. And since it was released last in the series in audio format, I listened to it as the final book in the series. So this book serves as somewhat of a prequel in that we already know what happened during this time period, as well as the aftermath from reading other books in the series. I actually quite liked going back to this story after listening to the others. First, it was nice to revisit Jack and Ethan in a story that takes place outside of the primary suspense thread of the main series. We do see Jack putting pieces in motion for the alliance with Sergey, the Russian president, but this isn’t a suspense story like the others, so the tone is different and the action isn’t connecting as directly from one book to the next. Instead, this story focuses more on the personal side of things, which I really enjoyed. Also, I found it kind of fun to look back at this key time of their lives after already knowing how it all plays out. This period is referenced in the second book, so we know the basics, but here we get more detail, all while knowing things are going to work out for the men in the end. So I think you could probably choose to read this chronologically, but I found it fun to jump back in with this book after the others, as an “interlude” as it was originally intended.
I will admit that I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one. I guess I was expecting it to be sort of a fluffy holiday story, and there is definitely that cozy, romantic feel as Jack and Ethan celebrate together. But this is actually a much more substantial story than I anticipated, though obviously it is not one meant to be read by those unfamiliar with the larger series. We get two work-related plots here that I enjoyed. One focuses on Ethan as he deals with the realities of being a persona non grata in his office in Des Moines. His boss hates him, most of his co-workers want nothing to do with him, and he can barely move without the press hounding him. But he still manages to crack a case that starts out focused on counterfeiters, but soon blows up into something much bigger and more serious. It isn’t a super high suspense story like the main series plots, but it is still an interesting case that develops nicely over the book. The case also gives us a chance to understand better the obstacles Ethan faces and the impact of his job on his mental health. From Jack’s end, we see the early stages of his alliance with Sergey and the first steps in a global effort against the Califate. Sergey and Jack are just building their relationship, both personal and political, and I enjoyed going back to these early days to see how it all starts between them.
On the personal end, this story has all the sweet and sexy romance I love between Jack and Ethan. With the high-suspense plots of the other books, their relationship is not always at the forefront, but here it really takes center stage. We can feel their frustration and pain as they deal with the constant separation and how hard it is to be apart after their short weekends together. We also get some romantic and cozy scenes as the men spend time together, particularly over Christmas. We can really see what the two have built together in the first book, and it is fun to look back here knowing what is in store for them next.
I once again listened to this in audio, and John Solo has become the voice of these characters for me. I think Solo has many of the same challenges here as in other books, particularly the struggle with various accents. There are scenes where Jack is interacting with a variety of global players and many of the accents just don’t feel entirely authentic or consistent. I have gotten used to Solo’s portrayal of Sergey’s Russian accent across the books, but it never feels fully solid for me either. That said, Jack and Ethan are the heart of this series and the primary speakers throughout this story, and I think Solo handles them well. He has a somewhat dramatic style, but again, it has settled for me as I listen to so many hours of this series, and I find myself connecting with his narration of these books and characters.
This book leaves some issues unresolved, as they play out in the second series story, Enemy of My Enemy. So the ending felt a bit abrupt and I was anxious to see things all come together for the men on page here, but of course, you have to read book 2 to see how that all turns out (which of course, I already have). But I found this one a really great chance to go back and reconnect with Jack and Ethan, particularly if you want to focus more on their relationship than the bigger series plot. It just reminded me of how much I love these characters and this series. If you are a fan of the Executive Office series, definitely check this one out.