Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book Review: "Nothing Short of Dying" by Erik Storey

I don't know what it is about drifters, but thriller writers seem to love them as protagonists—Lee Child's Jack Reacher; Peter Ash, the title character in Nicholas Petrie's superb The Drifter (of all things); and now, Clyde Barr, from Erik Storey's debut novel, Nothing Short of Dying—just to name a few. I guess the idea of someone with a shady, perhaps troubled past, yet nothing really to tie them down, provides an appealing canvas from which to create a story.

Clyde Barr has seen a lot in his life. A troubled adolescence led him to escape his Colorado home at a young age, seeking fortune and adventure elsewhere. As a hunter, soldier of fortune, and even a convict taking on anyone he sees as a threat, he's had more than his share of violence, death, and visions of destruction to last him a lifetime. He's ready to put the past behind him, and spend his days living off the land and sleeping in the mountains.

And then a phone call comes from his sister Jen, whom he has always sworn to protect since they were growing up. Jen begs him to come and rescue her—and then the call abruptly ends. Memories of their shared hellish adolescence return. He doesn't know who has taken her, where she is, or even if she is still alive, but Clyde knows he has no choice but to hunt down those who have kidnapped his sister so he can bring her home, no matter what.

"Those who needed help always managed to find me, no matter where I hid. They tracked me down and pleaded. And I never refused. Somehow, that always caused bigger problems."

As Clyde struggles to determine Jen's whereabouts and the identity of her kidnappers, he unwittingly finds himself wading deeper and deeper into the middle of a narcotics ring run by a madman and his henchmen. Clyde is no stranger to violence or depravity, but these people stretch even his imagination. He connects with Allie, a bartender who has her own reasons for going on the run, and he looks up some old friends to help him find his sister. But who can he trust? And will finding Jen mean sacrificing his own life in exchange?

I found this book to be pretty compelling, and Clyde Barr is a really fascinating protagonist. He's got a penchant for fighting, a fairly strong threshold for pain, and a hair-trigger temper, which makes him a fun character to read about. This is Erik Storey's first novel, and I think he does a great job in developing his characters' backstories while keeping the action and suspense fairly taut and focused. Even if the plot isn't necessarily surprising, Storey keeps you reading, keeps you invested in what will happen to the characters.

I like thrillers but sometimes find them utterly implausible or not capable of sustaining my interest. Nothing Short of Dying is neither of these; it's well-told, takes off at breakneck speed, and doesn't really look back. Definitely a worthy entry in the genre.

NetGalley and Scribner provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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