The Universe works in mysterious ways sometimes.
Sometimes, the Universe is telling you that you need to do something, or read something, or whatever, and it will get you there in the most convoluted way possible.
This is how I come to recommend a wonderful series of books by Nick Petrie, about a Marine named Peter Ash who goes around the United States (and sometimes elsewhere!) solving problems.
The first book is called, notably, The Drifter, and this is where my wonderful confusion came from.
Yes, there is a boardgaming connection to this.
During the pandemic lockdown, I bought a game called Elder Sign, a Cthulhu dice game in the same vein as Eldritch Horror and (I assume) Arkham Horror. My wife and I played a lot of it.
One of the investigators you can play is a guy called “Ashcan Pete,” a drifter with his faithful dog companion Duke.
I stumbled upon Petrie’s first book. Peter Ash? Ashcan Pete? The first part of the book has Peter trying to rescue a dog from underneath a front porch. Could that be Duke? Could that be Ashcan Pete and Duke’s origin story?
I love the game, maybe the book would be cool!
Of course, I was way off base. Sometimes I wonder how my mind works.
(Editor – “You’re not the only one”)
But I started reading it anyway…and I was entranced.
I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” series, a true drifter who takes the bus around the country and finds himself getting involved in local problems. He’s an ex-Military Policeman who’s living on his pension and just wandering the country.
Peter Ash was a Marine in Iraq and he has serious PTSD. It comes into being as a form of mental static whenever he’s in enclosed spaces. In fact, he can’t even be in an enclosed space for any length of time or the static becomes overwhelming.
Other than the first two books of the series (I’ve read 5 of the 7 so far), Ash doesn’t stumble into the problems that he faces in the books.
Granted, the first two do have that, but these two books set up a couple of central characters to the series (which is why I’m not going to reveal who they are).
Instead, Peter uses his military training and his desire to do the right thing and help people, to get involved in the story and take on the bad guys (who are, which is sadly the case with many books in this genre, usually either corporate bigwigs or Washington bigwigs).
In book 3, Light It Up, he’s been working on a construction crew with another ex-military guy who asks for his help when the security service that the guy’s daughter has set up starts getting hit for no apparent reason. The guy, who has become friends with Peter, asks for his help specifically because he’s ex-military and knows what he’s doing.
In book 4, Tear it Down, one of his friends asks him to go to Memphis to help out one of her friends who has gotten into a situation she knows nothing about but yet it seems that somebody’s trying to kill her.
Book 5, The Wild One, takes Peter to Iceland on a job that an ex-military person asks him to take on.
See? Nothing really random about any of these!
While I love the Reacher series, each book is completely self-contained and they jump back and forth in Reacher’s timeline so you never really know when it’s taking place. Some of the later novels flash back to when he was an MP over in Germany, for example.
Petrie’s Peter Ash novels are one continual story with the characters actually developing. The first two books introduce characters who will be mainstays throughout the series. Who’s to know if another character in a subsequent book won’t be the same way?
Peter also develops as the series goes on. He meets a psychiatrist who wants to help him deal with the PTSD and maybe allow him to actually sleep inside for a while (he always sleeps outside in the open where the static doesn’t get too bad). He starts working on things and improving, at least somewhat. He doesn’t get to the point of sleeping inside, but he still makes progress.
Hell, in Book #5 he can actually get on a plane to Iceland! Granted, it’s with the help of tons of valium and vodka, but still…
Ash and the other main characters (who sadly aren’t in #5, at least not much, and the book feels a little lesser for it) are interesting and fun to read about.
Petrie’s writing style is quick and punchy, but he hasn’t made Ash a perfect person. Jack Reacher sometimes feels a little too “on the nose” and always seems to know the right thing to do.
Peter is not that.
He makes mistakes. He goes through an entire book sometimes suffering from wounds that he should have taken care of earlier so that he can be at his best.
He’s a warrior, fighting both externally and internally to find his place in the world now that he’s out of the military. You are never an “ex-Marine,” but I get the feeling that he would like to be sometimes. His flashbacks to his times in Iraq are almost heartbreaking and they feed into the static that he constantly has to face.
Book #5 leaves him in a place that I’m wondering where he can go from there, but maybe Petrie will just gloss over it?
I hope not. Peter’s a wanted man without any friends in high places to get him out of that trouble.
I won’t know until I read Book #6, The Breaker.
I know I’m really looking forward to that.
The hand to hand combat in the novels is almost brutal, but not quite as calculating as Childs’ Reacher novels. Peter knows what he needs to do and does work out the moves he needs to make, but sometimes the static takes over and he just becomes a killing machine.
Even then, though, his conscience is enough that he doesn’t actually kill unless he has to.
But sometimes he does have to.
I read the first two books a while back, but the next three books I read during the two weeks of my COVID haze (along with a number of other books) and they really got me through that painful period. They gave me something to concentrate on other than how fucked up I felt, wondering if my throat would ever not be sore and if the aches would ever abate.
Each one of these three books I read in a day.
They were that enthralling. I couldn’t put them down.
I highly recommend Nick Petrie’s “Peter Ash” series, at least the first five books (I’m assuming Books 6 & 7 are just as good, though). If you’re in the mood for some gripping drama and some fun characters, you can’t go wrong with this bunch.