REVIEW: Enemies of the state (The executive office #1) by Tal Bauer
A rogue Black Ops unit with the president in their crosshairs.
A Secret Service agent who will break every rule.
A president falling for the one person he shouldn’t—a man.
Newly elected President Jack Spiers’s presidency is rocked from the very beginning, and he’s working furiously to keep the world from falling apart. Between terrorism attacks ripping apart Europe, Russia’s constant posturing and aggression, and the quagmire of the Middle East, Jack is struggling to keep his campaign promise—to work toward a better, safer world.
For Special Agent Ethan Reichenbach, Jack is just another president, the third in twelve years. With Jack’s election, he’s been promoted, and now he’s running the presidential detail, which puts him side by side with Jack daily. He’s expecting another stuffed suit and an arrogant DC politician, but Jack shocks him with his humor and humanity.
There are rules against a Secret Service agent and one of their protectees developing a friendship—big rules. Besides, Jack is straight as a ruler, and a widower, and Ethan has always avoided falling for straight men. Ethan keeps his distance, but Jack draws him in, like gas to a naked flame, and it’s a lure he isn’t strong enough to turn away from.
As the two men collide, rules are shattered and the world teeters on the verge of war, and a rogue Black Ops unit bent on destruction sets Jack in their deadly crosshairs. Ethan must put everything on the line in order to save the man he’s come to love, Jack’s presidency, and the world.
Dear Tal Bauer,
I am always so happy to discover a new writer whose work I end up enjoying. I had never heard of you before I encountered your book on Amazon. The reviews were stellar – although stellar reviews on Amazon these days do not impress me much unless I know the reviewers in question, but still, the reviews promised an exciting, fast moving plot.
Basically what I thought I would be getting on par with the romance storyline was a thriller – a US president in danger, a rogue Black ops unit. Fun! I love books with a fast-paced plot where romance is also present, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Granted, I am not a big fan of characters behaving unprofessionally and a president with his body-guard was not looking like an example of professional behavior, but in a situation like this I can be convinced that it is a love that can overcome anything. So I dived in.
First of all let me state that I really liked that both main characters were in their forties. As I stated before, I still do not think that m/m has nearly enough books with main characters are over thirty.
Unfortunately there is nothing else about this story I ended up liking. Which is truly a pity – because it did have an exciting plot, it is just the believability barrier in my brain was pinging louder and louder as I was reading, and it was so loud when I finished the story that I felt like I was having a real headache.
First and foremost, I did not understand how it helps to keep the reader in suspense if the identity of one of the main villains (actually as far as I am concerned he was *the* main villain since he was issuing orders) is revealed in the prologue. I do not understand what purpose the author was trying to achieve except to have this reader think that the president must have an IQ of 0 if he could not figure out who was plotting against him. Is it because the second villain was not revealed and his revelation was supposed to be a surprise?! Well for me it really was not one. But more on that later.
The story starts in the near future, where president elect Jack Spiers is adjusting to the life in the White House. He is feeling lonely – he cannot talk to people anymore as he used when he was a senator, he cannot have workout buddies as he used to. He asks Ethan, who is in charge of his presidential detail, all kinds of questions, and eventually when he tells him that he wants to cancel his workout, Ethan decides to work out with him.
Mind you, Ethan always taught his men that you are supposed to be distant with whoever you are protecting, because otherwise it may cloud your judgment and you cannot do your job well. Makes sense, right? Apparently this president is different – Ethan agonizes a little bit but decides the guy needs a friend and helps him out and talks to him – yes, knowing they are being extremely inappropriate. But he does that anyway.
Note that they are not even close to being together yet – so this objection of mine does not have anything to do with their romance, really. The president likes Ethan so much that he decides he wants to know his opinion on certain aspects of foreign policy because his staff is out of touch (close paraphrase). I repeat, the president cannot find a staff member who is competent to discuss foreign policy with him. This was the first really big head-desk moment for me – but many more were coming. And much later in the book the president will want Ethan in the situation room with him when they are discussing an appropriate response to a nuclear strike in Nairobi. I will give you a second to process this. Yes, they were lovers at that point – no, *he still should not have been in the situation room*.
““I don’t know.” Ethan’s thoughts swam, tumbling around each other. “I’d play it cautious. If they haven’t given a compelling reason to engage with them, then they might just want to leverage this meeting as an acknowledgement, or worse, spin it as an acquiescence. They could leak the details to the press, and then it looks like we’re meeting the invaders in secret.” “My thoughts exactly. There a lot of risks with accepting this overture.” “And what do you lose if you don’t accept?” Jack shook his head slowly. “Unknown.” Silence, for a moment. The fire crackled as a log shifted, resettling in the grate. Ethan held Jack’s gaze, studying him. His heart beat faster. “What are you going to do, Mr. President?” “I’m not going to accept.” Jack nodded once. “I’m not going to.” He leaned back, watching Ethan, seemingly appraising him. “Thoughts?” God, he shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be having this conversation. It was all kinds of wrong, six different kinds of illegal and had tragic implications for his career. “You’re more decisive than your predecessors, sir. It’s admirable.” Jack chuckled. “You know, I’d love to hear your insight”
I think I will leave it up to you to decide whether you buy their romance or not, but even if you do, I still maintain that they both behaved like unprofessional idiots and the president was the more unprofessional one out of two of them.
Also dear Mr. President, I would much appreciate it if you would stop referring to yourself as straight after you have an affair with your bodyguard. You are not, you know? You loved your wife and now you love Ethan. You are bisexual and it is not a dirty word.
“Daniels nodded. “I saw it happen. I mean, I saw you guys fall for each other. Ethan was crazy about you. Willing to break every rule in the book, even the ones he thought were gospel.” Daniels snorted, a tiny smile on his lips. It faded. “I didn’t think you were gay, though. Sir.” Jack shook his head. “I’m not.” Daniels frowned. “I don’t consider myself gay. Being with Ethan wasn’t some kind of realization of who I was deep inside. It wasn’t a…yearning of my hidden gay man, buried deep.” Jack frowned and rubbed Ethan’s shirt between his fingers. He hadn’t spoken of this to anyone, not even Ethan. They’d carefully avoided any talk at all about Jack’s sexuality, and what it all meant. “It was just me falling in love,” Jack finally said. “And figuring out how to make that work with Ethan.” “I’m not sure I could be with a dude. No matter how I felt about him.” Jack smiled. “When you love someone, really love them, you’ll do anything. Figure anything out. Because having them in your life is worth more to you than living without them. That’s how I felt about Ethan.” He chuckled, looking down, and fought back against his heart’s sudden hysteria. God, it had been perfect with Ethan. Absolutely perfect. “The fact that the sex was actually pretty amazing was a nice bonus.”
I personally found this exchange to be incredibly irritating.
The world around Jack when he becomes president is in many ways an extension of the troubles of our world, which makes sense since it takes place in the near future. We have terrorist attacks and more terrorist attacks and a lot of refugees and other awful things and Jack is trying to navigate it all and maintain peace. We have an added issue however – somebody close to the president wants to take power and he is trying to destabilize the world badly so it will be easier to do so. That was the villain revealed in prologue and I thought it was ridiculous that one person could have so much power and influence in order to destabilize a whole region. I know he was not working alone, but I had the impression that he was the only one issuing orders and in charge. Even the rogue black ops unit appeared closer to the end to participate in the takeover itself, but that was all they attempted to do.
The hilarious part for me in all this plotting was that it felt like the author did not have a high opinion of the intellectual abilities of her heroes either. The people who actually uncover the plot and bring the villains to our soldiers/bodyguards/marines are a Saudi Arabian Prince who does their intelligence work and the Chinese Colonel Song, who also does intelligence in some capacity. Those two people save the day because they share intel with Ethan and his group. Otherwise they still would have been as clueless as ever (and dead too). So Ethan saving the day by storming the White House did not impress me much I am afraid .
I mentioned a nuclear explosion earlier on. I felt like it was shown purely for shock value and before we even go back to that again, we are treated to our heroes’ sex life which is clearly more important to talk about in great detail than this.
As an aside, since the Russian president plays minor role in this book – I am not a fan of Putin in any way, shape or form, but if you call him Putin in the beginning of the book how does he become Sergey Puchkov later on? I guess I should be grateful he did not change his name again as the story progressed and remained Puchkov.
“When Putin invaded Ukraine, it was years of posturing. With China, it’s like they want to be forgotten. And now this?” Ethan’s eyes narrowed. All his years in the Army, in the Special Forces, were sending warning signals to his brain. “I agree, sir. Something isn’t right. Could they be biding time? Saving up their energy for a bigger show? A bigger threat? Is this just a distraction?” “Possibly. But there’s no indication that they’re making any moves like that.”
“Russian President Sergey Puchkov left the emergency NATO Summit in Prague this morning before summit began.”