Review: Secret Service by Tal Bauer (2022)

Heat Factor: I might go so far as to say lotsa sex, but it’s not lotsa super explicit sex, but also that first BJ will probably live rent free in my head for a while 

Character Chemistry: Love at first sight + so much angst

Plot: The president and his Secret Service detail lead are in love. Also the president has disappeared. Without his detail lead (in case that wasn’t obvious).

Overall: It’s present-past (roughly) alternating non-linear, so I was thrown for a minute…until I was totally sucked in

Author consistency from a technical standpoint is great and all, but it’s also really fun to see an author play. In Secret Service, Bauer has opted not only for a dual 1st POV in present tense (WHAT?!) but also it’s temporally nonlinear, beginning the night that the president’s car explodes on a clandestine excursion (!!!) before jumping back to when Brennan (the president) and Reese (his detail lead) met and then back to the scene of the crime, etc. YMMV with this style, but what it does for the story is: in the case of the dual POV, it gives us intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings, and dynamic change of both our protagonists; in the case of the present tense, it keeps us centered in the moment the action is happening, increasing the intimacy and immediacy of the drama; and in the case of the non-linear timeline, it manages the tension and the reader’s emotions so that we have moments of cooldown before we ratchet up the tension again. (Please see Ingrid’s June Hearts & Crafts post or our last Great Smut Debate post for more on this craft.)

The non-linear storyline also drops us into high emotional stakes for Reese right off the bat, while also giving both the story and the romance time to develop as crumbs are dropped in both timelines. Before I began, I had an expectation of a forbidden, pining, slow burn, so it took me a minute to adjust to this story, but the more I think about what Bauer did with the structure of this book, the more I like it. It’s not that the forbidden, pining, slow burn isn’t there, it’s that it’s interwoven with the 12 hours of thriller. And the way information is parceled out… Gosh, I wish I had read this with a buddy who could talk craft with me. I like it a lot.

ANYWAY, let’s talk romance. I have always been willing to buy instalove (more so than instalust, if you can believe it), and that’s what we have here. When you know what you want, you know what you want, and the minute Reese and Brennan meet, they just know. This person is somebody to me. There’s no rhyme or reason, and it’s hugely inconvenient (but let’s be honest—that’s probably what makes it work so well). There’s still very much a wanting-what’s-impossible mood during the “past” chapters, so even if instalove isn’t your jam, it might work for you. But also the book opens with Brennan and Reese enthusiastically lip-locked on a desk, so then again it might not. Take a risk, see what happens. Bauer leveled up with the dramatic language in this one (similes and metaphors like whoa—Reese has a poetic soul), so it’s emotional and angsty from the get-go.

I feel I should also note—without giving too much away—that some could consider there to be, like, love triangle energy in this book. It doesn’t read like a proper love triangle to me (at all), but there is a man who has feelings who is not a protagonist, and honestly, I thought it was perfect for what it was doing for the narrative, in part because of the tension it created but also because this is a bi-awakening for Reese. But readers who get really bent out of shape about messy interpersonal relationships might not love it. Notice given.

Oh, ALSO, Bauer has added a foreword that explains that the book takes place in a fictional world where a fictional Russia has invaded a fictional Ukraine, all of which was written prior to February 2022. I would encourage prospective readers to read the foreword in its entirety. Bauer also notes that portions of the proceeds of the book will go to specific aid organizations working in real Ukraine. From a reader standpoint, the Russia/Ukraine war in the book is happening on the international stage, but it does not form a central component of the storyline (though it impacts the characters and some of their choices). 

Ugh and now I’ve written five (extremely relevant and useful and not at all verbose) paragraphs when what I really wanted to do was play my romantic suspense gif game. (It made Holly read an entire series of books once, so that’s my goal forever more.)

As I said, the president (Brennan) and his Secret Service detail lead (Reese) are playing tonsil hockey on the president’s desk, so I’m like: 

Then Brennan drives off and leaves Reese behind at the White House, and I have to say:

Chapter two rewind: Reese sees Brennan for the first time, and they’re both like:

You know what, I don’t think I can do this like I usually do because of the timeline. I’ll just be as confusing as possible with all the feelings Reese, Brennan, and I are having as the book goes along. You’re welcome.

Just pretend that says “in it” okay?

Then Reese is all:

And I’m like:

But they’re like…

…pretending these feelings aren’t happening

Then things are getting so tense!

Is it even a romantic suspense if I don’t have to use a gif like this?

Ope! Those feelings that definitely aren’t happening might be problematic.

We all saw this coming.

Don’t forget there’s other stuff going on, though

Their sweetness is giving me warm fuzzies…

…but it’s not even fifty percent, so what on earth is going to go sideways? 

OH! The plot thickens!

Oh no! The other shoe drops!

Ah!!! More shoes are dropping! (This Is very stressful for me.)

So of course Reese is like:

Live reaction to me reading the “present” timeline: 

And then Reese is like:

And I’m like:

And then they’re like:

But I’m sure it’ll all be fine

(Thanks very much to Holly for formatting this outrageously long post with a greater than usual quantity of gifs.)

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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