Golden Trail by Kristen Ashley, narrated by Brian Pallino

Golden Trail audioWhy I read it:  I was supplied with a review copy by Audible.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Tanner Layne and Raquel Merrick fell in love young, hard and fast and both of them knew a beautiful life they thought would be forever.

Until Rocky left Layne, no explanation, no going back.

Layne escapes The ‘Burg only to come back years later because his ex-wife has hooked herself to the town jerk and Layne needs to make sure his sons get raised right. Layne manages to avoid Rocky but when Layne gets three bullets drilled into him while investigating a dirty cop, he can’t do that because Rocky stops avoiding Layne. They make a deal to work together to expose the dirty cop but they have no idea the strength of their enduring attraction or the sheer evil at work in The ‘Burg.

As Tanner Layne and Raquel Merrick play their game and dance around the pull that draws them together, Layne has to discover the dark secrets buried so deep in Rocky’s heart she doesn’t even know they’re there at the same time untangle a sinister web of crime so abhorrent it has to be stopped… at all costs.

And to do it, Layne has to enlist everyone, including his ex-CIA mentor, Rocky’s detective brother, the town’s unpredictable informant and Layne’s two teenage sons all the while stopping Rocky from doing something crazy and keeping their game secret so Layne won’t get himself dead.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Happily for hero-centric readers like me, Golden Trail is told almost entirely from Layne’s (third person) POV. Perhaps surprisingly, given that I am a hero-centric reader, it took me a while to realise it (doh!). Maybe I was distracted by the fact that when the book opens, Tanner Layne is in the hospital, having been shot three times.  Raquel “Rocky” Merrick Astley is sitting by his bed.  18 years earlier she had left him. They’d been happy for three years together and then, suddenly, she left. No explanation, no take backs.

Shortly after, in a drunken, grief-stricken haze, Layne picked up a woman who looked a little like Rocky and had sex with her. A couple months later, that woman, Gabrielle, turned up pregnant. Layne’s dad bailed when he was a baby and he didn’t want his child to grow up without a father, so he and Gabrielle got married. They had two sons but eventually the marriage failed.  Layne is a private investigator and left town to pursue his career away from the ‘Burg and painful memories. About a year earlier, lonely for his sons, he came back to town. He’s rebuilding his relationship with Jasper and Tripp slowly, having been largely absent for the preceding 12 years.

As a PI, Layne was sometimes given things to look into that were of concern to his local police friends (one of whom is Rocky’s brother). While investigating a crooked cop, Layne went in too hard and fast and ended up shot in the process.

Rocky’s mother was killed by a crooked cop when Rocky was just 14. Her dad was permanently disabled by the same guy. She has a particular loathing for crooked cops. She decides, now that Layne’s cover has been burned, that she will look into it and get close to Rutledge (the bent detective).  Naturally, this makes Layne lose his mind because, even after all this time, he still loves Rocky (he’s not admitting it yet, but it’s there) and he is very protective of her and concerned for her safety. Even though she is married to some big wig surgeon. Except, it turns out that Rocky has left the surgeon and maybe, just maybe, Layne has another shot at happy ever after. He comes up with a (pretty lame) plan for he and Rocky to pretend to be dating so that he can continue to investigate Rutledge.

In the meantime, Layne is still trying to work out what exactly caused Rocky to leave all those years ago – he’s worried she’ll do it again.  Add to that, his ex-wife is living with a guy who’s no good (and given that Layne’s sons spend half their time with their mother, that means Layne’s sons are around a guy who is no good), there are rumours of something hinky going on at the local church’s youth group and the high school football coach is a dick. Both Jasper and Tripp play on the team and because the guy is a dick, this causes problems for them and therefore, Layne.  Oh, and Jasper (aged 17) has a thing for Keira Winters – who is the beloved stepdaughter of badass Joe Callahan. Fun times!

There is a lot going on in the story and there is a fairly large cast. The pacing is fast and intense for the most part, with very little downtime. I liked how Layne was with his boys and Rocky and his interplay with Riker (a badass motorcycle dude) was often funny.

I admit to being frustrated at how long it took to find out why Rocky left all those years ago. I’m crap at mysteries so my guesses were all way off the mark. As it happened, if I’d found out earlier in the story, I’m not sure I’d have accepted the reason as being an actual reason and not just a poor excuse. Having spent some time with Rocky (mostly via Layne of course), I was able to buy it, so it was probably for the best.

This particular ‘Burg in Indiana is a hotbed of intrigue and violence, at least so far as I can tell, given what happened to Joe and Violet in At Peace and all the goings on in Golden Trail. Even so, there is plenty of time for lots of delicious romance and the set up allowed for Layne and Rocky to spend a lot of time together – which makes Kaetrin a very happy listener.

Golden Trail is a little sexier than some of Kristen Ashley’s other books – Layne has pretty intense sex dreams of Rocky every night so there is action before there is action if you know what I mean. Possibly because it is from Layne’s POV and he is a fairly earthy and blunt guy who doesn’t use a lot of pretty words, the sex was a little dirtier than usual. Not a complaint.

What else? I mostly enjoyed the performance by Brian Pallino, a new-to-me narrator.  Tanner Layne is an intense guy and Mr. Pallino gives just about the entire book an almost aggressive intensity. I’d have liked him to dial it back a bit at times so there was more light and shade in the performance. That said, I can’t say the narration didn’t fit the story.

There were a few vocal errors where it wasn’t clear who was speaking and it was apparent the narrator got a little confused himself, but this wasn’t a big deal for me. It’s a long audiobook, at 21 hours & 20 minutes; a few errors isn’t a dealbreaker.

Mr. Pallino doesn’t really have an authentic female character voice. He softens his tone a little but it doesn’t sound feminine. This was okay for me because I’d rather that than a high-pitched falsetto any day. It was enough for me to differentiate the characters and I could “pretend” for the sake of the book that what I was hearing was a woman. (This is a thing I do fairly often; there aren’t that many male narrators who can perform an authentic female voice.)

One of the things which is essential for a narrator of a Kristen Ashley book, is to “get” the cadence. I like to call it “KA-speak” or “Kristen Ashley-ese”. It’s a rather specific way of communicating. The sentences are often long and somewhat rambling. I imagine some of them need a bit of a run up.  Mr. Pallino certainly “gets” the language and this, more than any other part of the narration, made the listen a win for me.

Grade: B

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