Thursday, December 28, 2017

Heard: "Drifter" by Nick Petrie

Heard: The Drifter by Nick Petrie.

This has been compared to the Jack Reacher novels because the main character is a rootless veteran, capable of violence, and helping out a woman in need. Well, okay, if you overlook that Jack Reacher is a inherent asshole and borderline sociopath.

Set in (about) 2010 and Lieutenant Peter Ash got out of the Marine Corps 18 months ago. Ash has some bad mental health issues after several overseas combat trips as a Force Recon commando. His PTSD manifests in what he calls his "white noise".  Whenever Peter goes indoors it starts a panic attack with a buzzing inside his head and tensioned muscles. Being near a window can help ease Peter's tension but the aftermath of Iraq's urban combat has him spending all his time outdoors.

After demobilization (is that what it is called any more?) Peter got rid of his belongings and took to the forests of the Sierras. With enough cash saved up Peter would make supply runs into local towns. After a year in the mountains Peter learns his former Platoon Sergeant has committed suicide and left behind a widow and two orphans. Peter feels he failed his dead Sergeant so he reclaims his old pickup and drives out to Milwaukee. 

Ah, Milwaukee. The land of beer, duckpin bowling, cheese, polka, and bomb plots. Peter visits the man's widow - which, somehow, he never met after serving several years with the Sergeant - and, to save her pride, says the USMC is paying Peter to fix up her run-down house. While fixing the rotted front porch Peter finds a huge, scary dog and a suitcase filled with $400,000 cash. Well, that's odd.

Peter starts trying to figure out what the deal with the cash is and is confronted by a scarred, mean guy with a .32. Peter then confronts an old crook friend of Sergeant because Peter suspects a link to the money. Peter takes in the Big Scary Dog. Someone tries to murder Peter. So on. So forth.

Things happen and Petrie writes us a novel with plenty of action and plenty of meat. The meat is veterans's mental health issues and the economic collapse induced by banking malfeasance. Peter is disabled by his panic attacks but refuses mental health treatment and chooses to drift. Other veteran characters have similar issues and recognize Peter's sweating, tension, and distraction whenever he goes indoors.

The bad guys - spoilers ahead - are motivated by greed and anger. Some of the guys are angry over the Haves getting away with everything and fucking over the Have Nots. (We'll avoid my opinions on elections and the similarity among voters for both Obama and Trump demanding change and improvement.) Ash sets this in the middle of the recession when homes and jobs are being lost. Vets come back without work, unable to easily integrate back to civilian life, and their extended families are struggling to get by. The bad guy vets feel they are owed for their military service.

The bad guys want to set off a truck bomb two times the size of Timothy McVeigh's bomb. They expect the bomb to cause a financial panic and the bad guys will short the market and make a mint. Peter ends up in the middle of this because he figures out Sergeant was murdered and that Sergeant's wife and sons are in mortal danger over that $400k.

It's a fun story but a couple characters are pretty thin. Mention is also made of Peter growing up in Northern Wisconsin and his parents still living there. But, Peter has zero contact with his parents, which is weird. Maybe that is another symptom of his mental health issues - I'm not sure.

1. I do NOT know Milwaukee geography. I know how to get to the airport and the place where the mystery bookstore used to be. I did not try to follow along on a map as Peter and Company drove around the city.
2. Big Scary Dog is a borderline Wonderdog.
3. Gratuitous old pickup truck love.
4. Gratuitous absence of beer talk. 
No Lakeside
No Potosi
No Stillmank
No One Barrel
No Tyranena
No New Glarus
No Karben4
No Ale Asylum
No 3 Sheeps
No Wisconsin Brewing
No Central Waters
No Capital
No Milwaukee Brewing
No Door County
No Lake Louie
No MobCraft
No O'so
5. Okay, okay. One Barrel and Karben4 may not have been around in 2010.
6. I think there was mention of Goose Island but they are out of Chicago.
7. I bought a copy of this novel when Petrie spoke at my library system's Trustee Dinner a month or two ago. Petrie gave a nice talk and is a good dude. Since the audio version was available I decided to grab it and shrink my TBR pile.

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