Written by Nicholas Petrie, narrated by Stephen Mendel — This exciting debut thriller pits US Marine lieutenant and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars Peter Ash against a mysterious conspiracy involving psychologically damaged vets, some serious explosives, and $400,000 in cash. Ash isn’t without his own post-traumatic stress issues, especially the ‘white static’ that rises up whenever he’s indoors for too long. This extreme claustrophobia promises to be more than an inconvenience with winter coming on in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the story is set.
At the completion of eight years in the military, Ash spent 14 months in the Northwest woods, outdoors, sleeping rough, and hoping to get past his anxieties, but it hasn’t worked. Only when he hears of the suicide of his former comrade Big Jimmie Johnson does he return to his home state. He hadn’t kept in touch with Jimmie on his return, and guilt has motivated him to at least try to make it up to his widow Dinah and her two young sons. He invents a Marine Corps program that supports families by doing free home repairs and sets to work first on the Johnson family’s dilapidated porch. But he can’t rebuild the porch supports until he does something about the huge, vicious, and rank-smelling dog that’s taken up residence under there and using it as a home base for terrorising the neighborhood.
Once the dog is secure, he finds another surprise back under that porch: a Samsonite suitcase filled with money and four packs of explosives. Dinah says she knows nothing about the money, but someone does, because the house was recently broken into and is still being watched by someone driving a big black SUV. After Ash confronts the stalker, he begins to be followed, too.
Ash wants to protect Dinah and the boys, but he also wants to get to the bottom of Johnson’s death. At first he buys the story that his former sergeant was a suicide, as the police have said, and he’s known plenty of those. But the more Ash finds out about Jimmie’s recent actions and the few papers he left behind, the more he begins to suspect something else was in play. One of his few clues is a poster about a missing combat vet. Then there’s the money and the explosives. Although what Jimmie might have gotten himself involved in – either as a participant or an investigator – is unclear, it must be serious or people wouldn’t have started trying to kill him too.
Rehabilitating the dog Mingus, author Petrie has said, was Ash’s first useful act. Certainly it has powerful parallels to the character’s own need to learn how to live with people and civilisation again after a long period of disconnect. But his own rehabilitation won’t happen overnight.
Even though I enjoy the ‘how done it’ aspects of techno-thrillers, Petrie goes a little overboard in describing the construction the bad guys’ bomb. Too many white and blue wires. I was prepared to accept that the bomb-maker – after all, his nickname was Boomer – knew what he was doing. But that’s a small quibble. Most of the descriptions of damage done, whether to people, property, vehicles, or psyches was just right.
Petrie capitalises on his experience in running a home inspection business to describe with verisimilitude the repairs Ash makes to Dinah’s porch and door – skills that, as you can imagine, come in handy more than once as the story unfolds. What I appreciated is that these are everyday skills, put to new and creative purposes, rather than the super-specialised arcane killing methods or other unlikely expertise that push some thrillers into preposterous territory. Ash is a down-to-earth hero you can easily identify with and get behind
Television and movie actor Stephen Mendel – who seems to make a specialty of narrating the thriller genre – does a nice job in the book’s audio version. The characters’ voices are believable – regardless of race or social class – and easy to distinguish, and the women and children are realistically done. With his portrayal of Peter Ash, Mendel has made his own contribution to creating a likeable character the listener truly roots for.
We’ve reviewed the audiobook version of The Drifter, which is available in the US here. In the UK the book is currently only available in print. See the Amazon button below.
GP Putnam’s Sons
CFL Rating: 5 Stars