Written by Erik Storey — Do you have a ritual when preparing to read a new book? I admire the cover, make sure I have a bookmark to hand (no turning over the corner of a page here!) and assiduously avoid reading the back cover blurb or any press release.
The latter is why Nothing Short of Dying came as such a shock to me. A debut? Surely some mistake? This book reads like the middle of a series and upon reflection that’s a good thing. It means that American writer Erik Storey, who is a former ranch hand and a champion marksman, has hit the ground running and on this showing it’s going to be hard to catch him.
Cover quotes are so common these days they are easily overlooked, but when your debut cover boasts positive vibes from none other than Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver, then it is something to shout about, don’t you think?
Child in particular is an interesting one, because in Clyde Barr, Storey has come up with a lead character who displays many Jack Reacher traits. Barr is a loner with a past, a man not averse to getting his hands bloody and who hates to see a damsel in distress – so far, so familiar, right? Luckily, this newbie novelist has the skill to add flesh to the bones and I soon found myself harbouring a grudging fondness for this former mercenary, ex-jailbird who has an endearing habit of helping out the underdog.
The story begins as Barr, fresh out of prison, is preparing to trek out into the wilderness and find some peace. No such luck – a panicked call from his older sister, Jen, pleading with him to “come get her” sets Barr on a dangerous mission that looks likely to end in much more than tears. The call ended before Barr could find out the wheres, whens or whys of Jen’s predicament – so how to start?
A bar seems an obvious place, and in addition to some useful information, Barr acquires a travelling companion in the shape of streetwise, sassy Allie. She’s a woman who travels light, but whose emotional baggage rivals that of Barr himself and as the plot unfurls we begin to learn more about what has brought both of them to this pretty pass.
They’re a great pairing and a solid centre point to a story that has quite a cast of walk-on players. Barr may be a loner, but he has amassed an array of dubious contacts over the years and doesn’t hesitate to use them when the need arises. Cue bloody action – and plenty of it.
There’s more than a touch of the old fashioned Western about this book, where tough guys shoot first and ask questions later. There’s even a beautifully drawn section where Barr, Allie and the odious Zeke ride the mountains and gorges of Western Colorado in search of a drugs processing plant – this author can certainly set a scene! Erik Storey’s CV includes jobs as a ranch hand, wilderness guide, dogsled musher, hunter, bartender and locksmith – I think it’s safe to add novelist now.
This is an interesting debut. There is a sense of familiarity that gave me pause, moments when I caught the shadow of plotlines and protagonists that have gone before, but there is definitely enough new ground here for a series to take root and I look forward to making Clyde Barr’s acquaintance again.
Simon & Schuster
CFL Rating: 4 Stars