Note: Because this is the final book in a trilogy with an overarching storyline, there will be spoilers for the other books in this review.
Barrel Proof, the third and final instalment in Layla Reyne’s Agents Irish and Whiskey trilogy of romantic suspense novels, picks up pretty much where Cask Strength left off and plunges us straight into the action. Like its predecessors, Barrel Proof is a fast-moving, action-packed story with plenty of thrills and spills, an engaging cast of secondary characters, steamy romantic moments and a well thought-out and executed suspense storyline. I enjoyed it a lot, although I have a couple of niggles over the ending which brought my final grade down a notch.
In the previous book, Jamie Walker and Aidan Talley were at an awkward place in their relationship when they were assigned to an investigation into fraud and match-fixing which took them to Jamie’s home state and to the sport he left behind some eight years earlier. Jamie is ready to commit, but Aidan is skittish, the loss of his beloved husband of ten years making him – perhaps understandably – shy of making the same sort of commitment to someone else and thereby opening himself up to the possibility of another devastating loss. By the end of the novel, however, Aidan has finally come to his senses and has stopped trying to deny the depth of the feelings for his partner and lover, and is ready to move forward – but everything is blown apart when he discovers that Jamie has been keeping a secret from him for months, a secret concerning his late husband’s association with an international terrorist. Jamie was sworn to secrecy by their boss (and Aidan’s sister-in-law), Melissa Cruz while he worked behind the scenes to put together the pieces of the puzzle, and has always felt uneasy about keeping his investigations from Aidan. He wanted to present Aidan with more than a set of theories and ‘what ifs’; now, however, the cat is about to jump out of the bag as Jamie, Aidan and Danny (one of Aidan’s younger brothers, who is involved with Mel) are racing to Cuba after she took off on the trail of her Uncle Roberto whom, she has discovered, has been working with/for Pierre Renaud, the terrorist responsible for the murders of Aiden’s husband and his partner. During the perilous confrontation that follows when they find Mel facing off with Roberto, Aidan finally learns the truth; that his husband, Gabe, had been working with Renaud (and so had Tom, his partner) and that Jamie has known about it for months.
Aidan is thrown completely by this news. Having just admitted the truth of his feelings for Jamie, he’s angry and hurt at the fact that his partner has kept something so important from him for so long, and he asks for a solo assignment while he comes to terms with it all. Jamie isn’t surprised and tries to understand when Aidan tells him that he needs time and space… all he can do now is hope that Aidan will come back to him when he’s ready.
Whereas the two previous instalments featured self-contained suspense plots running alongside the set up for the Renaud storyline, Barrel Proof concentrates on pulling together all the threads the author has carefully laid out and bringing the Renaud plot to a dramatic close. Ms. Reyne has brought together rather a dizzying array of blackmail, market manipulation and economic destabilisation, fraud, kidnapping, computer hacking… it’s quite possible I didn’t understand all of it, but the whole thing rattles along at such a frenetic pace that it’s impossible not to get caught up in it and just go along for the ride! The focus here is more on the suspense than the romance, but given this particular storyline has been bubbling under for two books already, that feels right; it’s a story of fairly large scope and needs time to unravel. Because of that, there is probably less focus on the romantic element of the story, but I didn’t really mind that; Ms. Reyne wisely opts not to allow Aidan and Jamie’s separation to drag on, so that while all the shit is hitting the fan and they are working to bring down Renaud, we are secure in the knowledge that they’re committed to each other and can concentrate on the drama and the action of the denouement.
About those niggles I mentioned at the beginning. I won’t give spoilers, but one incident felt rather needlessly tacked on, and the resolution to the other felt like a bit of a cop-out; both of them seemed like last minute attempts to wring every possible bit of drama out of the story. But with that said, I enjoyed Barrel Proof and it’s a terrific finale to what has been an excellent series. I am really looking forward to reading more from Layla Reyne… fingers crossed there are stories for Cam Byrne and Nic Price waiting in the wings.