Though I still read the latest Lee Child every time one arrives at my local library, I’ve become just a bit uncomfortable with the faint taste of revenge porn I get every time I accompany Reacher to an isolated rural town where trouble and a body count are sure to follow. It was after reading Worth Dying For in 2011 that I let rip a Goodreads review that tried to express (and maybe exorcise) my discomfort:
These are all bad, bad men but the fact that Reacher kills without remorse feels like a fantasy of what being a cop or a soldier is like. I think of Arkady Renko and Dave Robicheaux and of how violence and rage lead to alcoholism and nightmares. In this novel, Jack Reacher is like a robot or an avenging angel, playing at humanity. I rooted for him the whole way but then felt kind of sick about it afterwards.
The back cover of Nicholas Petrie’s The Drifter compares its protagonist, Peter Ash, to Jack Reacher, and on the surface, there are similarities. Peter has left the military after several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is a man who wanders from place to place (a la Reacher), but that’s about where the similarity ends. Peter Ash has a particular type of PTSD, what he calls “white static,” which makes it hard for him to spend any time indoors and this vulnerability tempers his “specific set of skills.”
As the novel begins, Peter is about to fix the porch of Dinah Johnson, the widowed wife of an army buddy, Jimmy. Jimmy’s suicide has left Dinah with both emotional and financial burdens and Peter, feeling responsible for not seeing the signs in his friend in time, heads east to Milwaukee and pretends that he is part of a special marine program that helps repair homes of military widows. However, what looks to be a routine home improvement project gets complicated when Peter discovers two things under the dilapidated porch: a fierce and ugly dog and a suitcase full of explosives and cash.
In classic noir fashion, Peter sets about to discover how these items ended up under the Johnson family home and things get complicated. This is a thriller with a strong sense of place and with a hero who is a believable mix of honor and violence, but whose struggles with PTSD suggest the price that mix demands. It’s the first in a series and I’m comfortable following Peter Ash wherever fate takes him.