In Peter Ash, Petrie has created a hero in the Jack Reacher mould but different. 5-Stars!

How many times do you see a quote from Lee Child on a book cover? Or quotes from someone comparing a book to Lee Child’s novels, or a hero to Jack Reacher? Too often to shake a stick at, I bet.

Like me, you may now treat these endorsements with caution, because too often they fall short of the mark. But I think I’ve just found an author whose books come close, and he’s called Nick Petrie. And yes, indeed, there’s a quote from Lee Child on the cover: “Lots of characters get compared to my own Jack Reacher, but Peter Ash is the real deal.” That’s why I picked the book off the library shelf (before lockdown) and I’m really pleased I did.

By luck I chose The Drifter, which is Petrie’s debut novel and the first in his Peter Ash series that now numbers five books. (Always nice to start a series at the beginning!) Petrie made an immediate impact with this one, winning the International Thriller Writers’ Best First Novel Award with it in 2017.

So who is Peter Ash?
Well, he’s ex-military of course. A Marine who’s spent eight years serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Returning to the USA he’s suffering from PTSD, which manifests itself as a buzzing claustrophobia that he calls ‘white static’. It only disappears when he’s outside so he’s spent his first year back living out of a backpack in the mountains, hoping the static will disappear. It doesn’t.

Then he hears about the suicide of his Sergeant, Jimmy Johnson, and feeling guilty that he hadn’t been in touch with him he sets off to see if there’s any way he can help Johnson’s family. Doing some overdue repairs to their home seems a good place to start, so that’s what he does.

Slow Burn
Under Johnson’s front porch Peter discovers a suitcase full of money and some plastic explosive. From there the story builds quite slowly but it’s really well-paced. Bit by bit Peter pieces together Johnson’s last weeks, all the time dealing with the white static as best he can. It’s obvious that Johnson was involved with something bad but was he part of it, or just the good guy caught up in something beyond his control?

For a large part of the book I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Ash. He comes across as a rather gentle soul, struggling to live with PTSD and longing to be well enough to live a normal life. In the first few chapters there are fleeting references to his military experience. His captain had called him a natural war fighter. He was very good at what he did, and his unit had what the top brass called ‘essential skills’. Hence the reason he’d had very little time between deployments during his eight years’ service.

There’s also a part, early on, when you realise Ash is still a fighter – and a very good one at that. But because of the PTSD he generally comes across as more damaged than strong; and he has none of Reacher’s restlessness to be somewhere else. Ash would like to settle somewhere but the white static makes it impossible for him to do anything but keep moving.

More than fists
As the plot develops you realise that Peter is a man you’d want on your side. Like Reacher he works things out and moves carefully to deal with the enemy. His fighting skills are beyond question – hand-to-hand, marksmanship and tactically. And when the showdown comes it’s an impressive, fast-paced, action-filled few chapters. Of course the bad guys are dealt with, and Peter and his new friends win through. It’s really enjoyable stuff.

So this was a cover quote that actually lived up to its promise. In Peter Ash, Petrie has created a hero in the Reacher mould, but different. And if this book is anything to go by, the series will run and run because the story was good and its telling was excellent. I couldn’t put it down so that’s 5-Stars from me!
Review by: Cornish Eskimo