Although I haven’t given as high grades to the books in Layla Reyne’s Trouble Brewing series as I did to some of those in her earlier Agents Irish and Whiskey one, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the novels in spite of their weaknesses. This is primarily because I like the two principals – FBI agent Cameron Byrne and Assistant US Attorney Nic Price – and the sense of family and connections the author has created between them and the recurring secondary characters, most of whom appeared in the earlier series. These are quick, easy reads that are rather like TV shows or action movies in book form; the heroes are impossibly handsome, the ex-SEAL-turned-Lawyer gets to kick ass physically as well as in the courtroom, and the computer experts can hack pretty much everything in the world without breaking a sweat, or turn up all sorts of information in the five minutes it takes most laptops to simply boot up!
So. Taking a degree of suspension of disbelief as read, Noble Hops brings to a close the overarching plotline of the series, in which Nic discovered that his father Curtis Price, a wealthy businessman, was heavily in debt to Duncan Vaughn, a dangerous criminal and slippery character with a finger in many, many pies, that nobody has – as yet – been able to pin anything on. Vaughn tried threatening Nic and his business – the small craft brewery he co-owns with a former SEAL buddy – as a way to force Curtis to pay off his loans, and then to force Nic to pay them – and the fear of putting those he loves in harm’s way led Nic to try to conceal what was happening from Cam and those he’s closest to. Fortunately, by the end of book one, Nic was brought to see that he didn’t have to deal with the situation alone, and now, he and Cam are openly living together and obviously in it for the long haul. That’s not to say Nic isn’t still carrying around a large crate of worry and guilt over events in his past, but he’s at last adjusting to the fact that he has a family now – maybe not a family by blood, but one forged of strong bonds of friendship and loyalty – people who love him and he can trust to have his back.
The book opens as Nic and Cam are attending a ceremony honouring a former colleague of Nic’s when a phone call comes in that changes everything. Curtis Price is dead, and now it’s time to step up the investigation into Duncan Vaughn and start putting the squeeze on him. Cam is worried at the stoic way Nic takes the news – he might have been estranged from Price but the man was his father – but he offers the emotional support Nic needs in order to focus on setting the endgame into play. Nic and the FBI team that includes Cam and his boss, Aidan Talley, have been gradually amassing evidence of Vaughn’s felonious activities and are finally in a position to make a move and bring him down. They have also ascertained the identities of Vaughn’s moles on the inside, one of them a young FBI agent, the other a much more senior staff member whose complicity they’ve long suspected but have not, so far, been able to prove. Everything is in place. Nic is to take his evidence to the Grand Jury in order to obtain the necessary indictments, while Cam and his team will bring Vaughn in – but the discovery of a long-buried family secret and the reappearance in his life of Nic’s first love threaten both the operation and Cam’s peace of mind.
As was the case with Barrel Proof (book three in the Irish and Whiskey series), the focus in Noble Hops is more on the suspense element of the plot than on the romance, but I didn’t mind that. Nic and Cam have been firmly established as a loving, committed couple; I liked that their personal connection makes them so compatible professionally, and the way that Cam keeps Nic grounded when things look like they might go to shit. I did find Cam’s insecurity about his place in Nic’s life a little unnecessary, but Ms. Reyne doesn’t drag anything out, and watching them pull together in spite of the unfolding chaos around them was sufficient to convince me they have a successful future ahead of them.
But as with the other books in the series, I found some things about the writing that were a bit cheesy and kept taking me out of the story. Ms. Reyne knows how to construct a fairly tight plot and create likeable characters, but some of her dialogue and sentiment is repetitive and a bit creaky. In Craft Brew, Cam kept telling Nic to ‘just breathe’ when he got stressed, and here we get several reminders of how they each need to be ‘Nic/Cam the SEAL/FBI agent’ rather than ‘Nic/Cam the boyfriend’ or ‘Nic the federal prosecutor rather than Nic the brother’. There are several instances where Nic’s internal monologuing about his guilt over his perceived failure to protect his family years earlier crosses the line into the melodramatic, which just felt wrong for a forty-something ex-SEAL Captain and terror of the San Francisco courthouse.
Still, all ends well, Nic, Cam and the crew come out on top and there’s a hint at a possible couple and new direction for a future book or series. Trouble Brewing hasn’t been as big a hit with me as I’d hoped, but Noble Hops rounds out the series nicely, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Layla Reyne’s next venture.