The Drifter

Many of the main characters in Nicholas Petrie's debut crime novel are veterans. Cops, criminals, shelter workers, the unhinged homeless--they were trained to kill in the military. The Drifter is set in Milwaukee, Wis., in the weeks before Veteran's Day, when the weather is turning cold. Former Marine Lieutenant Peter Ash is "living in his truck and [doing] his personal grooming at a car wash.... Operational necessity." Ash is an itinerant carpenter with a bad case of what he calls "the white static" (a claustrophobic reaction to confined spaces), brought back from multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan along with a battle-hardened knack for thinking on his feet and for lethal violence--useful in door-knocking war missions maybe, but a problem for living a "normal" civilian life.

Guilty that he wasn't there when his closest friend and platoon sergeant Jimmy committed suicide, Ash comes to Milwaukee to provide Jimmy's wife with home repairs and moral support. Under her falling-down front porch, he finds a huge ugly dog ("Like a timber wolf run through the wash with a pit bull, a Great Dane, and a fuzzy orange sweatshirt"), a suitcase with $400,000 in cash and four slabs of C-4 explosives. He soon uncovers a bombing plot cooked up by angry vets, crooked cops and a ruthless hedge fund manager. Backed by a sympathetic local gang criminal with an Army Ranger background, Ash fights his personal white static paralysis to do what's right by Jimmy. A page-turner with a shout-out to vets everywhere, The Drifter is a first-class crime novel set in a second-tier city with plenty of third-rate lowlifes. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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