Friday, January 12, 2018

A meandering and very enthusiastic blog post about Nick Petrie's "Light It Up"

If you follow my reading habits, you know that I do read my share of mysteries and thrillers, and in the last few years, I've increased the number I've read, partly because they are so much fun to recommend to others. And while I am not generally a series reader, I love that if you hook a reader, they are often hooked for at least several more books in the series. But then I find diminishing returns in pitching the subsequent titles - I'm generally still going to tell people to start with the first book. 

Of course sometimes an author's first novel in the series is not their best. My former colleague Jack Covert used to give me tips on where to start potential fans in various series. Not everyone can blow people away right out of the gate. Even though I recall selling Louise Penny very well with her first Gamache title, Still Life, which still continues strong today, Minotaur decided to make their Signature Edition title for Penny her fifth book, The Brutal Telling. To me, that means, "Start here" and many Penny-philes say that the Gamache books get better as you read through them.

When it comes to the Peter Ash series, Nick Petrie wrote quite an opener! The Drifter was one of my favorite books of 2016 and I continue to enjoy hand-selling it to new readers. It also has the added bonus that, like many openers, it feels like a stand-alone, and the double bonus that it's set in Milwaukee. It's so good that it doesn't feel like a first novel, and to be exact, we should call The Drifter his first published novel. 

When it came to book #2, Burning Bright, I think it did what it was supposed to do. Many readers liked it even more. It's more of a mainstream book, it's effectively a chase novel (what I used to call the Harlen Coben stand-alones when I'd recommend them), and it introduces a love interest. I am not the person that love interests are written for, but I know that they bring humanity to the character. The conspiracy at the center of the book is good, and the scenes in the treetops are particularly fun and I hope Mr. Petrie did a little hands-on research there. I know the books have to be more mainstream and a bit less stylized to really break out, dialing up the action and dialing down the ambience, and I'm down with that. Reviews were good, and the book made Carole E. Barrow's top ten for 2017.

And now we come to Light It Up, which I hope will be his breakout book. The premise is great. Peter Ash goes to Denver to help his friend's kid who has a marijuana security business. Because it's still illegal at the federal level, the legal marijuana businesses can't use banks, so there's a lot of cash floating around. But one of the trucks disappear making a shipment. Peter and his pal get a crew together for a replacement run, and...youch!  I like the rhythm of the book - crazy extended action sequences at the beginning in the end, punctuated by the story and smaller tense moments. 

I know this is a crazy aside, but I can't help these things. I went through an Iris Murdoch stage and I noticed that in two successive books, she had a really violent act, but in one book she did it at the beginning (The Good Apprentice) and the rest of the book was aftermath, and in the other, she did it at the end, and the whole book led up to it (The Book and the Brotherhood).Thank you to Fantastic Fiction for helping me figure out which was which. I had no time to read the rest of Murdoch's oeuvre, but I wondered whether she always played with momentum like this. Were there books that climaxed in the middle? Immediately my mind turns to Orhan Pamuk's Snow for this kind of structure. I'm guessing that the V structure is not that uncommon. The only time I don't like it is when the author (or publisher) takes a climactic moment and makes it the introduction. Note that in this case, I'm not referring to jump-time dual or triple narratives. In this case, I'm referring to the movement in one scene. I most recently saw this in The Improbability of Love, and I generally tell people to skip over it (which might be why we've sold the book so much better than most other bookstores on Treeline). 

My dream is for Janet Maslin to pick up and review (favorably) a copy of Light It Up, and for this to convince her to go back and read The Drifter. Though retired, she seems to still have a regular review slot. Maybe she could for once skip a Lee Child or Michael Connelly (they are great, really great, I know) where her review basically says, "this book is as great as all the other Lee Child and Michael Connelly books, for pretty much the same reasons," and review Nick instead.

I'm not crazy here. The momentum of The Drifter in 2017 has been nomination, nomination, nomination, nomination, nomination, nomination. I forget how many awards it was nominated for, but at least six. It won one too (oh, that was a hard sentence to write for someone who has homonym spelling disorder), a 2017 Thriller Award for best first novel from the International Thriller Writers Association. I wound up reading the best novel winner too, Before the Fall, which also won the Edgar. Look!

What I like about Light It Up is that it does seem to be about something - what sort of behavior drives honor and loyalty among friends and colleagues. There are honorable ways to drive loyalty and dishonorable ways and Light It Up features both. I like that the story was more closely about Peter Ash's life as a veteran too, something that wasn't as important in Burning Bright

We're celebrating the release of Light It Up on Tuesday, January 16, when Nick  (formerly Nicholas, as you can see by the cover history) Petrie will be in conversation with Bonnie North (above left) of Lake Effect. And if you miss that, Petrie will be at Whitefish Bay Library on Tuesday, January 30, 6:30 pm. And if you miss that, he'll probably be somewhere else. And if you don't like events, the book is available for purchase (at Boswell or wherever), borrowing (at a library), downloading, audio downloading, or maybe you can just have someone read it to you as a storytime that will be only a bit nightmare inducing. A couple of friends of mine used to read entire books to each other alous. I don't think it was a bad idea, though I don't think I could have made it work. 

And as to my regret that Mr. Petrie probably won't soon have a Peter Ash novel set in Milwuakee again... maybe there's a stand-alone in our future.

1 comment:

Suzanne Z said...

To make the reading of The Drifter even more enjoyable, readers may want to attend MSOE’s dinner discussion on February 21. Discussion around a fireplace is led by a professor, but even better, the dinner is themed to the book, in this case it includes cheese curds, cheese and beer soup, a Wisconsin sausage plate, and a cream puff for dessert. You can register online, under Great Books MSOE, and the evening is well worth the 50 dollars.