NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous books in the series.
Layla Reyne’s Fog City series was originally a trilogy – or perhaps more accurately, one story in three parts – that featured the three Madigan siblings, the heirs to one of the most powerful organised crime families in the Bay Area of San Francisco. When the family patriarch and head of the business – their grandfather – dies after a long illness, Hawes Madigan – the eldest – steps into the role he’s been groomed for, but his decisions to turn away from some of the more illegal aspects of their work and towards more legitimate business interests aren’t popular, and the trilogy deals with uncovering and foiling the plot to bring him down. On the way, Hawes falls in love with Chris Perri (formerly an undercover ATF agent), and we’re introduced to a typically large secondary cast, which includes Hawes’ twin Holt, their sister Helena and various other operatives and villains. Among that cast is the character of Braxton Kane, Chief of SFPD, who was in the army with Holt over a decade earlier – and although Holt is married with a young daughter, it was very clear throughout the trilogy that there was something bubbling along between them that was considerably more than friendship. (And no, there’s no cheating involved.)
The relationship between Holt and Brax intrigued me (I do love me some yearning and UST) and I had hopes that maybe Ms. Reyne would write a story for them; and she did. Silent Knight is it.
It’s a book of two halves. The first, in Brax’s PoV, tells the story of how he and Holt met in the army and follows them in a series of vignettes (eight in total) over a period of some fourteen years, and then we get Holt’s PoV in the present day suspense storyline.
I was pleased to get their backstory, but OMG, it contains probably the worst case of Love at First Sight I’ve ever read, when Holt steps off the transport plane in Afghanistan and Brax – his captain – takes one look at the young, redheaded, “fucking beautiful” – and “so off fucking limits” – man and vows never to let anything happen to him:
He’d do whatever it took to make sure this soldier walked back up that ramp and made it home when his tour was over.
– before he’s so much as spoken to him. I mean – seriously? Holt could have been a complete dickhead for all he knew – or straight, or both. We do get to see some relationship development across the years (although not much, as each vignette is basically a snapshot of a single day) but I just couldn’t get past a thirty-six year-old career soldier thinking like a teenaged girl. (With apologies to teenaged girls everywhere.)
We follow the two men through Holt returning home after his tour, Brax completing his twenty years and going to take up a post with Boston PD, Holt falling in love (with a woman) and getting married, and Brax finally moving to SF a few years later to become assistant Chief of Police. It’s here that he finally learns the truth about Holt’s family – and even though he’s horribly torn, he still stands by his determination never to let anything bad happen to Holt if he can help it. (If you’ve read the Fog City series, you’ll know that Brax walks a fine line, but never falls on the wrong side of it.)
When the narrative switches to Holt’s PoV, we’re in the present day, a few months after the plot to oust (and kill) Hawes was foiled, and for reasons Holt can’t fathom, Brax is trying to put some distance between them; reasons which become apparent when it emerges that someone is out to discredit Brax and strike at the family through him. With IA called in to investigate the allegations, Brax wants to keep Holt as far away from him as possible, so as not to put him and his daughter in any danger. Of course, Holt is having none of it – Brax is family, and the Madigans look after their own. Helena and Hawes (and their partners) are on board, too – they all know how Brax feels about Holt and how Holt feels about Brax even if Holt hasn’t quite worked it out yet.
But readable though it is, Silent Knight is plagued by the same problems and inconsistencies that have beset a number of Ms. Reyne’s recent books, and indeed, the other books in this series. I like the characters and the relationships between them; the Madigans are a close-knit family and there’s no question there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for one another. Ms. Reyne is also very skilled at creating a slick, fast-paced, action-filled story that feels like an action movie in book format; they’re filled with super hawt, super clever characters who are incredibly good at what they do, and things move at a dizzying speed. But there’s a serious over-reliance on technology – each of her series/books has one or more genius hacker characters who can do pretty much ANYTHING with just a few keystrokes – and that started feeling like a major cop-out a few books ago. (The exception to this is her recent standalone Variable Onset, which is one of her best books to date.)
When it comes to inconsistencies – apart from the Love at First Sight thing, I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that Amelia – Holt’s ex-wife who is in prison for her part in the plot against the family – is able to help out by doing a bit of complicated hacking FROM THE COMPUTERS IN THE PRISON. I mean – what?! Most of the hacking stuff goes right over my head and I kind of zone out until it’s finished, but that? Made no sense to me.
The romance is… well, Brax has been in love with Holt for years, but it seems Holt hasn’t recognised his feelings for what they are (and have always been), so really there’s not a great deal of romantic development as these two have been in love for ages. And, as has also been the case in previous books, the dialogue in the sex scenes strays dangerously close to the line between hot and funny-for-the-wrong-reasons. The author is going for intensity but some of the things these characters say to each other makes me want to cringe. The prose might not quite be purple, but the overblown nature of the sentiment certainly is.
I keep thinking that maybe it’s time I called it quits and stopped reading Layla Reyne’s books – and then she comes out with something as good as Variable Onset and I’m sucked back in, hoping for something else of that calibre from her.
To sum up – if you enjoyed the other Fog City books, chances are you’ll enjoy this one, but if, like me you like a coherent plot that doesn’t rely too heavily on technological deus ex machina and a romance that doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes so hard they hurt, then maybe this won’t be the book for you. Bonus points for cameos from characters from the Whiskeyverse aren’t really enough for me to be able to rate this one above the average.