I read Nick Petrie’s debut novel about Peter Ash, The Drifter, a few months ago and really liked it. It was a well-plotted noir novel set in Milwaukee and though many critics have compared Peter Ash, an Iraq War vet who also has a penchant for wandering, to Jack Reacher, I thought the similarity was superficial at best. ReadingThe Drifter and getting sucked into Ash’s struggles with PTSD and the guilt he feels over a fellow soldier’s suicide made me realize what was missing from Lee Child’s creation. On a good day, I love me some Jack Reacher ass-kicking but on a bad day, I feel uncomfortable with the fact that Reacher lacks a soul. Petrie has succeeded in creating an interesting protagonist with a “certain set of skills” who not only struggles with the aftereffects of military service but also struggles with the choices he faces stateside.
In this second installment, Peter Ash is hiking through the Redwood forests of California—far from Milwaukee and enclosed spaces—trying somewhat unsuccessfully to silence the buzzing and sparking in his head. However, an encounter with a Grizzly sends Peter scrambling up the nearest tree, where he discovers a series of climbing ropes leading eventually to a platform and a woman, June Cassidy. June, a freelance investigative reporter, is on the run after escaping from two men who tried to kidnap her. She suspects it has something to do with her mother, a prominent software developer, who just recently died in a car crash but it’s hard to investigate on the run.
As you might expect, Peter offers her his services and in his attempts to keep June safe and to help her figure out what is going on, they both get sucked into some seriously scary stuff (which I will only allude to in a general way here, so you can have the fun of experiencing it in real time). On one level, this is a typical suspense novel—lots of forces at play, sparks that fly between our hero and heroine, and a plot that winds tighter and tighter as the story continues. On the other hand, Petrie gives June almost as much page time as Peter and as rich a back story. Also, he allows Peter to evolve—to slowly digest the words of a psychologist he crosses paths with and begin to realize that he needs to deal with and not simply run from his PTSD symptoms. Personal growth is definitely not something we’ve seen with our friend, Jack.
Reading Nick Petrie’s two novels has made it harder for me to pick up the latest Lee Child without discomfort and instead I want to spend more time with my favorite, all too human, male protagonists—Dave Robicheaux, Arkady Renko, and Patrick Kenzie. Peter Ash fits right in and there’s definitely room up at the bar.