Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrator: John Solo
Length: 9 hours, 12 minutes
In the 365 days since Secret Service Agent Sean Avery removed himself from President Baker’s personal protective detail and became the graveyard shift supervisor, he’s done his best to avoid thoughts of the president’s best friend, Vice President Jonathan Sharp, and that night. Having become friends, Sean fell in love with Jonathan, but ran after a drunken incident. However, when President Baker seemingly commits suicide with a gun he shouldn’t have in one of the most secure places in the U.S. and surrounded by secret service agents, Sean is wracked with guilt for leaving Baker’s side. Baker’s death rocks everyone to their core, and while both men blame themselves for not seeing the depth of Baker’s depression, only Jonathan is convinced that Baker didn’t commit suicide. When Jonathan tells Sean he’s the only man he can trust and tasks him with looking into Baker’s death, Sean accepts despite his reservations. In the aftermath of intense grief and growing suspicion, the two men manage to find their way back to one another. However, as a seemingly cut and dry suicide becomes obvious murder, the pair’s quest for truth make them targets for a threat they may not see coming until it’s too late.
The Night Of is a locked room mystery that shows a snapshot of a romantic relationship. As a mystery, it’s intriguing in its premise and the myriad of small, seemingly unconnected clues; Bauer also does a great job setting the stage at Camp David, as well as sharing Baker’s state of mind and the pressure he’s under. The speed of the action and the investigative carte blanche Jonathan is given (mostly) works. The secret service is an investigative branch in government and Sean’s position and occupation as a former MP gives enough credence to his ability to bypass all kinds of procedure and, of course, show up everyone else. Yet, while the plot takes place in only 72ish hours after a heightened, traumatic event, the story doesn’t hold much tension or suspense. Even when Jonathan is quickly put into the crosshairs, the energy for this kind of situation is a bit low to me. I think that because Sean is so prone to volcanic-sized emotions and blowups, some of the steam is let out of the pace. Usually, my need to know and connect the dots keeps me engaged, but by the time it’s clear who’s involved and the eventual reveal, I wasn’t that invested.
To me the relationship is a bit lacking, which surprised me as this is one of Bauer’s strengths. However, The Night Of does more telling than showing when it comes to who the MCs are and their connection. The friendship and quiet, forbidden falling into love happens off page and is generally only referenced when Sean is lamenting the night that ruined their budding relationship. Once they reconnect, their forever love is off and running with some sex and grief-related comfort scenes dispersed between Sean searching for clues about what actually happened to Baker and pretty much pissing off almost everyone.
As The Night Of is told in first person from Sean’s POV and the extreme events don’t allow much normalcy or breathing room for character development, I feel I didn’t get to know Jonathan as much as I would have liked. Sean says Jonathan is loyal, stoic, honorable, and brave, and for the limited time Jonathan is on page, it’s a believable assessment; he’s not one-dimensional, I just wish I could have gotten a bit more about him as an MC. As for Sean, his commitment to his president and the depth of his feelings for Jonathan are forefront. He hates himself for what he did that night and would do anything to stand by Jonathan’s side and be whatever the man needs. Some of Sean’s descriptors of secret service agents include “overwound, arrogant pricks” and he’s definitely that throughout the story. He’s also unnecessarily antagonistic, quick-tempered, dramatic, and kind of an asshole, except when donning a hair shirt for his unspeakable behavior towards the love of his life that night.
Given the amount of self-flagellation Sean does and the fact that be believes what he did was so bad that he had to lock his gun in the freezer when trying to remember, I find it hard to believe he didn’t talk to Jonathan for a year, if for no other reason than to own up to what he did. I mean, Sean spends almost the entirety of his introduction and recollections agonizing about his behavior that night, going so far as to see himself as evil when looking at his reflection. Beyond the extreme suspension of disbelief needed for the Vice President to be allowed complete privacy on a remote beach with absolutely no service detail to have drunken sex out in the open in a foreign country without being outed, Sean clearly believes he, but doesn’t check up on him or give Jonathan the minimum curtsy of allowing him to choose whether he wants to talk to Sean or not? It smacks of cowardice, not the care it’s passed off as and then it’s all cleared up in a single conversation that jumps straight to sex. I get that the pair has an established bond and it makes sense to reconnect quickly after a life-changing loss, but the buildup and emphasis placed on Sean’s actions and him choosing to ghost Jonathan in the aftermath just didn’t sit well with me. Additionally, the most emotionally revelatory scene about love, what the characters mean to one another, and their connection doesn’t even happen between the MCs and, to me, illustrates the lack of emotional heft I felt between Sean and Jonathan.
However, John Solo sells me on what there is of the relationship, and I believe he gives one of his most restrained and spot on narrations in The Night Of. Considering how intense Sean is, Solo would have been well within the bounds of the character to dial it up to 11, but instead manages to channel Sean’s simmering, boiling personality into palpable inner turmoil when Sean isn’t letting loose. Sean is at the scene of the president’s apparent suicide, then tasked with a seemingly impossible mission without resources beyond invoking Jonathan’s name and Solo keeps Sean’s heightened emotional state and stress believable, but not overwhelming. Both Jonathan and Sean are described as having low, gravely voices, but Solo does a good job keeping them distinct through most of the story, except sometimes in the sex scenes as Sean is going all toppy on Jonathan, so hits a register very similar to Jonathan’s normal voice. Overall, Solo’s pacing and delivery matches that of the story and is a good fit.
If you enjoy high stakes romantic suspense, angst, and second chance romances with intense, loyal MCs, then the audiobook of The Night Of may be right up your alley.