Brutal and beautifully written, Jordan Harper’s debut novel, She Rides Shotgun, hooked me before the end of the first chapter and was hard to put down even as I wanted to look away. The body count is high but so was my investment in the main characters, eleven-year-old Polly McCluskey and her ex-con father, Nate.
When Nate shows up at Polly’s school, Polly knows something is off because she thought her dad was still in prison. What she doesn’t know is that her mom and stepdad are already dead. Just before he was set to be released, Nate got in an altercation with a member of the Aryan Steel gang and the gang member ended up dead. Though the authorities didn’t connect him to the crime, the gang put a bounty on his head that also targeted his ex-wife and daughter. Though he is too late to save his ex, he vows to keep Polly safe and find a way to get the target off of her, even if it means sacrificing himself.
From that moment on, they are on the run—from both the police, who not surprisingly think that Nate killed his ex-wife, and from members of Aryan Steel. However, Polly takes to the life they are forced to lead—fighting and stealing to survive—a little too well and that is the most brutal and believable part of what is already a jaggedly realistic tale. Harper creates a California underworld teaming with biker gangs and drug dealers but also folks whose humanity both redeems and endangers them.
The interesting and most skillful thing about this novel is I’m not sure if I’m reading the origin story of someone who will become a force for good or a criminal mastermind or possibly both.