Friday, 30 March 2018


Note: this review contains slight spoilers
Clyde Barr is a soldier and mercenary who's been gone for 16 years, including the last two in a Mexican jail. Now he's back in Colorado, communing with nature and staying away from civilization, when he gets a broken-off cell-phone call from his sister Jen, who's been kidnapped. She's his sister, and their childhood was traumatic, so Clyde comes back to society, low-down society, to find her, and free her. And there's nothing short of dying, as Kris Kristofferson sang, that's going to stop him (though in Kris' case it was only getting dressed and going out of the house he was talking about).

Easier said than done, and soon he's fighting a war against meth dealers, aided by his Mexican prison-mate Zeke, who happens to live just a few Colorado hills away, and Allie, a beautiful barmaid from a biker bar who's attached herself to him. But sidekicks don't have great prospects with Clyde, who's strategic sense is as limited as his luck in avoiding and surviving impossible situations is infinite. This is a dangerous combination for bystanders. Of course Clyde is skilled, and the body-count mounts rapidly: I started keeping score in the book's margins until I got tired of that.

What makes it work is first-time novelist Storey's sense of pacing, and the way he's able to combine Clyde's extreme existential thoughtfulness with his limited practical version of the same. Almost like a zen version of Jack Reacher, except he's totally unaware of it. The cast of characters is well-drawn, because the villains need to be when you have this kind of tarnished white-knight invincible hero, and the inevitable searing loss of Allie, the best character in the book, is well-handled. As action thrillers go, it's got the action, and the thrills, and a bit of decent characterisation is not to be sneezed at.

When it's all over Clyde drives off into the sunset and sees a small herd of wild horses, what in a western might be called mustangs or broncos, running 'because they felt like it'. He realises they are following Allie's advice and 'living in the moment'. And he realises he could 'go in any direction...doing what needed to be done'. If only he'd read Jack Reacher, he wouldn't have needed the horses.

Nothing Short Of Dying by Erik Storey
Simon & Schuster, £7.99 ISBN 9781471146862

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