****The Drifter

wild dog

(photo: numb photo, creative commons license)

By Nicholas Petrie, narrated by Stephen Mendel – This exciting debut thriller pits U.S. 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 has post-traumatic stress, a “white static” that rises up whenever he’s indoors too long. This extreme claustrophobia promises to be more than an inconvenience with winter coming on in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the story is set.

When Ash hears of the suicide of his former comrade Big Jimmie Johnson, guilt motivates him to 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 underneath it.

Once the dog is secure, he finds another surprise: 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 a man driving a big black SUV.

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 police story that his former sergeant was a suicide, but the more he finds out about Jimmie’s recent actions, the more he suspects something else was in play. Although what Jimmie might have gotten himself involved in—either as a participant or a sleuth—is unclear, it must be serious, or people wouldn’t have started trying to kill Ash too.

Rehabilitating the wild dog Mingus, author Petrie has said, was Ash’s “first useful act.” Certainly it has powerful parallels to Ash’s own need to learn how to live with people and civilization again.

Petrie went a little overboard in describing the construction the bad guys’ bomb. I was prepared to accept that the bomb-maker—after all, his nickname was “Boomer”—knew what he was doing. But most of the descriptions of damage done, whether to people, property, vehicles, or psyches, was just right. I also appreciated that Ash’s “everyday” home repair skills were put to new and creative purposes. They make Ash a down-to-earth hero readers 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 realistic. With his portrayal of Peter Ash, Mendel has made his own contribution to the creation of a likeable protagonist.

A longer version of this review appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website.