Does this brief synopsis sound familiar? On the surface, it does sound quite similar to the first book in author Tal Bauer’s “Executive Office” series, Enemies of the State, with President Jack Spiers and the head of his Presidential Secret Service Detail, Ethan Reichenbach. However, that’s where the similarity ends. In this new book Secret Service by Bauer, we have President Brennan Walker, a single and closeted gay man. The head of his security detail is Agent Reese Theriot, a Cajun from Louisiana. There are some other primary players in this tale, most notably Agent Henry Ellis, the second in command and best friend to Theriot, and Agent Sheridan, the new kid on the block with a severe case of hero-worship regarding Agent Theriot.
President Walker is having an “off the books” meeting with the CIA Director in the middle of the night, which is highly classified. Agent Theriot doesn’t like it, but he agrees to stay behind and monitor the operation from the White House. The President will be escorted by Agent Ellis and one from the Counter Assault Team, Agent Stewart. Less than two hours after they left, Agent Theriot discovers they have lost contact with the President’s SUV. Theriot and Sheridan find the SUV wrecked and on fire. Even worse, there are two charred human remains.
This is the mystery and thriller behind Secret Service, but it almost serves as a B-plot to this book. Much of Secret Service tells of how Agent Theriot, who up until now has engaged only in heterosexual relationships, finds himself more than attracted to President Walker. Theriot cannot understand the nature of this attraction he feels to the President, which terrifies him. Theriot doesn’t know President Walker is equally attracted to his Cajun Agent. Walker melts whenever Theriot tosses out the occasional French word or sentence. He also finds the Agent’s presence both soothing and strengthening, enabling him to better serve as President. At the same time, Russia has invaded Ukraine (Tal Bauer wrote this book prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has chosen to donate portions of the proceeds to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Ukrainian Red Cross Society, and Doctors Without Borders). President Walker is doing all he can to force Russia to withdraw and provide humanitarian relief to the people of Ukraine. It doesn’t help that Theriot feels dangerously close to Walker’s orbit, and it scares him to think that people will discover their inappropriate relationship. Not only will it end Agent Theriot’s career with the Secret Service, but he’s also afraid it will ruin Brennan Walker’s Presidency.
What I just described sounds like two separate stories. In many ways, that’s precisely what Tal Bauer has delivered. Unlike his past books (I have read 13 of his books so far), Secret Service relies on time-shifting. He also shifts the POV between Walker and Theriot. The result is a book comprised of two parts “then” and one part “now.” Admittedly, I did not initially care about how Secret Service was written. The first chapter is titled Reese Now and barely touches on the relationship between Walker and Theriot, except to show how passionately in love these two men are. The chapter ends with the apparent disappearance of the President. From there, it alternates between Brennan Then and Reese Then as Bauer writes of their growing relationship and the potholes they encounter, especially Agent Theriot. As interesting as any slow-burn love story can be, I was more interested in reading more Reese Now chapters. However, I should have learned by now never to doubt Tal Bauer. The further I got along in the story regarding the growing relationship between Theriot and Walker, as well as learning more about some of the other players present, the more I began to realize how this information would play into the mystery that Agents Theriot and Sheridan were trying to unravel. Jumping back and forth in time and POV helped feed the mystery about what happened to Walker and the love story. It is even used to develop the deep friendships that exist among the agents in both the now and then storylines. There is a symbiosis between both stories. What started as a book where I found myself excited by one part of the story, only to feel a sense of disappointment with the other part, became an incredibly unified thrill ride. Regardless of the chapter being a then or a now, I could not put this book down. Secret Service is full of surprises and twists that I never saw coming, and it is told with the standard high level of detail that one comes to expect from anything written by Tal Bauer. The world this story takes place in is 100% believable. How Bauer writes the scenery and action can only be regarded as theater of the mind. I could not help but see the story unfold in my mind as I tore through the book up to the very last satisfying sentence. The true testament to this great story is the sadness I felt when I reached the final page. I wanted more!
Given that Secret Service is a same-sex male romance story, it would only be fair to say that there are plenty of scenes of an explicitly sexual nature and should be read by those 18 years and over.
Once again, Bauer has proven why he is currently one of my favorite authors. I was leery at first reading a book with a setting that had already been told in earlier novels with exceptional detail. Secret Service has taught me never to doubt Tal Bauer.
I give Secret Service 5 out of 5 Agents!!!
Secret Service is available on Amazon in both print and for the Kindle. Tal Bauer also has the website, Tal Bauer.