Bad Bishop is the second book in Layla Reyne’s Perfect Play trilogy, and if you haven’t read book one, Dead Draw, it won’t make a great deal of sense; this is a ‘same couple’ series with one overarching plotline, so the books need to be read in order.
Bad Bishop picks up just a few hours after Dead Draw ended, with Marsh and Levi realising that their enemies have upped the stakes of the game. The suddenness of all the upheaval has thrown a wrench in the middle of the couple’s burgeouning relationship; both men had begun to realise that their marriage of convenience was turning into something real, but any acknowledgement of that had to be put on the back burner when they were targeted by the traffickers they’re trying to bring down, Levi’s boss was framed for murder, and two of their colleagues were injured and ended up in hospital. With the help of Redemption Inc. (the company run by Brax (Silent Knight) and Mel (Whiskeyverse)) Levi, Marsh and David (Levi’s fourteen-year-old son) were able to get away under the radar, and when Bad Bishop begins, are en route to Marsh’s family ranch/compound in Texas.
Once settled, Marsh and Levi set about taking stock of where they are with the investigation and deciding on their next moves. It seems their most likely suspect has decamped to Europe, so it’s back to The Hague for Marsh (he was working there as a Legat at the beginning of Dead Draw) and then on to Vienna and Salzburg – but this time he won’t be alone. Confident of David’s safety at the ranch with Marsh’s moms, Holt, and Brax, Levi will be going with him, and then they’ll meet up with some of Marsh’s former colleagues and contacts to see what they know and start to plan the take-down. Meeting up with Sean (What We May Be), Marsh and Levi start picking their way through a complicated network of connections, progress made even tricker by the knowledge that someone Marsh and Sean have worked with may be in the traffickers’ pocket. There’s no way they’re getting away with everything they’re doing without someone high up covering for them and allowing them to operate unchecked throughout Europe. Marsh and Levi already know this is true of the operation in the US, where the gang has some pretty influential people on its payroll. While trying to work out how far the corruption extends, they’re also presented with some new – and uncomfortable – information about Sophie, the friend and mentor whose murder set Marsh onto the path which ultimately led him to Levi… and the web becomes even more tangled.
Ms. Reyne does a good job here of giving the romance space to breathe and embed without losing any of the momentum surrounding the suspense plot. There’s plenty going on – mostly gathering information and following leads rather than shoot ‘em up action – but the tension is mounting and the ending is a nail-biter. It’s probably no surprise that there’s a cliffhanger ending given that this is essentially part two of a single story being told in three instalments – but there is one and it’s one guaranteed to have you chomping at the bit for King Hunt (out early 2023).
On the relationship front, the tables are turned somewhat here as the events at the end of the previous book have spooked Marsh a little; he’s riddled with guilt over what he’s brought to Levi and David’s door and his deep-seated insecurities about not being enough have come flooding back. He’s one of those guys with a protective streak a mile wide and such a big heart that he wants desperately to look after those he loves and fails to do the same for himself. He needs someone who recognises that about him and who will do their best to show him that he IS enough – that he could be everything – and luckily for him, he’s found that person in the man he proposed to in order to get in on an op.
Although Levi wasn’t completely sure that marrying a stranger was a good idea, by the end of Dead Draw he had decided he needed Marsh in his life and was ready to trust him with his happiness and his son’s and make a new life with him. Knowing Marsh pretty well by now, he knows why his husband seems to be pulling back, and is determined to show Marsh that he absolutey, one-hundred percent, means what he says:
I will have your back, however I can do that, however you need me to, and I will give you a home and heart to return to. I promise I won’t leave you.
I like Levi and Marsh both individually and as a couple – they have terrific chemistry and I love the relationship Marsh is continuing to build with David – I like the way their romance is playing out, and I’m intrigued by the plot, so I enjoyed a lot about the book as a whole. But once again, I’m knocking off grade points for over-complication, because the first section is bursting at the seams with cameo appearances, and it was hard to keep track of who was who and who did what – and I’ve read almost all Ms. Reyne’s romantic suspense titles! Sure, it’s fun to see familiar faces again, but at the same time, it’s over-egging the pudding when no less than seven characters (Helena, Brax and Holt from Fog City, Cam Byrne from Trouble Brewing, Sean, Trevor and Charlotte from What We May Be) all drop in alongside the secondary characters from this series. (One scene features around a dozen speaking characters on a big video/conference call.) Sean and, to a lesser extent, Holt and Brax, do have larger roles to play in the wider story, and I’m completely behind the concept of ‘why create a new character to do X when I can use one that already exists?’ – but even so, I couldn’t help wondering if the story really needed ALL of them. There are also half-a-dozen villains and at least three more new characters introduced once the story moves to Europe – it’s a lot to keep track of.
That criticism aside however, once past those early chapters and with the action moving to Europe, the story kicks up a gear and the twists and turns come thick and fast. Slick, sexy, suspenseful and entertaiing, Bad Bishop is a strong follow-up to Dead Draw, and I’ll be back next year to watch Levi and Marsh bring down the bad guys and get their well-deserved HEA.