Cask Strength, by Layla Reyne
Series: Agents Irish and Whiskey, Book 2
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: May 1, 2017
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Professionally, the FBI team of Aidan “Irish” Talley and Jameson “Whiskey” Walker is as good as it gets, closing cases faster than any team at the Bureau. Personally, it’s a different story. Aidan’s feelings for Jamie scare the hell out of him: he won’t risk losing another love no matter how heart-tripping the intimacy between them. And loss is a grim reality with the terrorist Renaud still on their trail, leaving a pile of bodies in his wake.
Going undercover on a new case gets them out of town and off the killer’s radar. They’re assigned to investigate an identity theft ring involving a college basketball team in Jamie’s home state, where Jamie’s past makes him perfect for the role of coach. But returning to the court brings more than old memories.
As secrets and shocking betrayals abound, none may be more dangerous than the one Jamie’s been keeping: a secret about the death of Aidan’s husband that could blow his partner’s world apart and destroy forever the fragile bonds of trust and love building between them.
I admit, I had high expectations going in seeing as how Single Malt swept me off my feet but happily for me, Cask Strength was another top shelf read in the author’s debut series Agents Irish and Whiskey.
Cask Strength picks up five months after the first book left off. Professionally, our heroes Aidan and Jamie are kicking ass and taking names, while on the side, their hunt for the mysterious international terrorist Renaud continues with mixed results. On a personal level however, the two men have firmly fallen into the “friends with benefits” category.
Aidan and Jamie’s relationship was far from ideal, especially when you factor in the big secret that Jamie’s keeping from Aidan about his deceased husband’s possible ties to Renaud. I admit, there was a lot of SMDH and eyerolls on my part directed at Aidan because of his refusal to take things further with Jamie, [ALERT: minor spoiler] even going so far as to date other men in the guise of keeping it casual. He managed to redeem himself somewhat but still cut it way too close for my tastes considering the way the book ended – you guessed it, with another cliffhanger finish.
The few things that bothered me in book one came back to mock me. This was unsurprising – keep in mind that a lot of it’s a matter of personal taste or preference rather than any legitimate complaint on my part. For instance, I couldn’t help but cringe every time one of our big strong heroes “gasped” (and it happened often enough) – let’s just say that neither Aidan nor Jamie strike me as the type to show their surprise in such an obvious and dramatic manner. And I still found the flashy display of wealth (Aidan’s in particular) a bit jarring especially for an FBI agent. Jamie’s no pauper either thanks to his former basketball career but I found him infinitely more relatable with his casual manner and slovenly ways.
Also, I hate to admit it – and again this is probably just me – but two books into the series and I still had trouble telling our heroes apart sometimes. I mean sure the whole “Whiskey” and “Irish” nicknames are cute but they’re not particularly helpful when both men are tall, well-built, smart, wealthy, white, alphas, love fast cars… I could probably go on but I think you get the idea. And of course, both their given names are traditional Irish names. I guess I just wished their character voices were a little more distinct. It also didn’t help that my brain kept imagining Jamie as a gorgeous blue-eyed, light-skinned Black man (think Michael Ealy)… like I said, most of it boils down to personal tastes. Or in this case, my stupid, wayward brain.
The writing was sharp and detailed which was no surprise but always worth pointing out and applauding. However, a few moments seemed off to me, like when Aidan took a moment to ID a suspect, even after Jamie had just relayed the info to him. And then the opposite happened a little later when Jamie gave Aidan the address of a secret location with no indication how he got the information. I mean, presumably he hacked it because that’s what he does best, but considering the circumstances he was in at the time, that information seemed to appear out of nowhere.
The book may not have had the bombs and car chases of its predecessor but their undercover stint had a very personal and human element that I really appreciated. Jamie’s love for basketball and for being home really shone through, as did his struggle when faced with the temptation of all the things he’d ever dreamed of in life presented to him on a platter – not least of which was his ex-love, Derrick.
Overall, Cask Strength was a great second act in the Agents Irish and Whiskey trilogy. Both the over-arching mystery and Aidan and Jamie’s relationship are left unreconciled but the groundwork was laid for what should be an explosive finish. As fast-paced as the books are, I’m almost a little concerned that the romance might end up taking a back seat to all the action in the final installment of the series. However, between the sharp writing, compelling plot and steamy romance, this series has me completely hooked so you can bet I’ll be tuning in when Barrel Proof releases in the fall. Besides, I need to see if my guess for one of the culprits is correct – it hit me really early on, and I’ve been dying for some confirmation since. Bring it!
2016 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist, Layla Reyne, was raised in North Carolina but now calls San Francisco home. She enjoys weaving her bi-coastal experiences into her stories, along with adrenaline fueled suspense and heart pounding romance. When she’s not writing stories to excite her readers, she downloads too many books, watches too much television, and cooks too much food with her scientist husband, much to the delight of their smushed-face, leftover-loving dogs.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.