Hey everyone, Happy Monday and Happy May 1st! Recently I was approached by a PR agency and asked to review an upcoming book from an author of theirs – Cask Strength by Layla Reyne. The second book in the Agents Irish and Walker series, I was drawn in by the description and the fact that the book had some elements that I don’t normally choose when picking books to read, namely romance, and I was excited to kind of step out of my comfort zone to give this book a read – I’m glad I did.
(Note: I did receive this book free electronically for review in exchange for my honest opinion.)
Cask Strength, which releases TODAY, is the second book in a three-book series about FBI Agents Aidan “Irish” Talley and Jameson “Whiskey” Walker, some of the most successful detectives in the Bureau. There’s more to them than on the surface – they’ve recently been through a harrowing case involving a terrorist, and Aidan’s husband was caught in the crosshairs and killed. I’m hearing that the first novel really started to plant the seeds of Aidan and Jamie’s romantic relationship but in Cask Strength, things get a bit more complicated. Aidan has just experienced unfathomable loss, and Jamie is craving Aidan’s love. Aidan seems content to keep Jamie at arm’s length, making it known that he’s seeing other guys as well as Aidan. This type of romance novel is not one I usually read, but the tension between Aidan and Jamie was so palpable that it truly helped make this book into even more of a page-turner. I’ve historically read some classically heterosexual romances, so the fact that this was a gay romance was refreshing to me – and Aidan and Jamie’s romance is pretty hot to boot.
When it becomes clear that Renaud, a terrorist they’ve been tracking, is hot on their heels, Aidan and Jamie head to North Carolina on an undercover case. Jamie is going to play the part of assistant coach at a local college, which is exciting and daunting for him as he had left the court years earlier before becoming an FBI agent for fear of being “outed” in an environment where being gay did not feel okay. During his first day as the new assistant coach, “Whiskey” Walker encounters homophobia from the players (directed at each other, not him), and it makes him feel like he’s right back in the thick of it. Not to mention, other parts of his past come crawling out of the woodwork – in the form of Derrick, his ex-boyfriend. The mission of going undercover is to find out who is running an illegal gambling operation against NCAA rules.
Balancing Derrick’s reappearance (and his begging them to get back together), as well as Aidan’s flirtation with the Athletic Director (is it REALLY just part of the cover?), while the both of them seem to avoid the elephant in the room: their feelings for each other had me turning pages pretty quickly. It’s quickly discovered that the illegal gambling site is also tied to identity theft and the drug cartels – but who is behind it? Clearly there are some insiders running the show.
I don’t want to give away the story, but it’s clear that you don’t know who you can trust, and I actually was a bit surprised by the twist at the ending. The ending has me reading the first book to get the rest of the backstory and EAGERLY awaiting the third and final book in the series.
As part of getting to read this novel before release, I was able to ask author Layla Reyne a question about the writing. My question was: How did you decide to write a story about identity theft?
When I started plotting the Agents Irish and Whiskey series, I researched the FBI’s Cyber Division and their investigative priorities, which include cyber terrorism, cyber intrusions, ransom/malware, identity theft, and online predators. Those priorities form the basis of the cases Aidan and Jamie work together over the course of the series. Early in Single Malt, they work an online predators case, then they go to Texas to investigate a series of hacks on a biocontainment facility there, a cyber intrusion matter that escalates to a cyber terror threat.
For Cask Strength, I shifted focus to an identity theft/malware case, which was, at least for me, a little easier to follow. These days, we pay increased attention to potential scammers and to spyware on devices that can steal our personal information. But in Cask, the people whose information is being stolen are engaging in questionable activity on the dark web, thus less likely to report it. That concept I pulled, in part, from the file-sharing craze that went on when I was in college. Not likely to report you got hacked while on Napster, right? (How many of you actually remember Napster? I feel old, alas…) So I combined those two ideas, wrapped them up with basketball, and voilà, the perfect undercover case for Irish and Whiskey.
-Layla Reyne, Author
Thank you Layla for your answer to my question. I really found this crime thriller/suspense novel surprisingly well-informed, and it was really clear that Layla had done her research. This definitely made me want to read the other books in the series even more.
Feel free to check the book out and add it to your TBR list on Goodreads!
And awesome giveaway time! To celebrate the release of Cask Strength, we are hosting a giveaway – four winners will win a $25 Amazon Gift Card! Feel free to enter via the Rafflecopter widget below.