Burning Bright by Nicholas Petrie is the 2nd book in the Peter Ash series, where Ash has a woman’s life in his hands—and her mystery is stranger than he could ever imagine (available January 10, 2017).
One week ago, investigative journalist June Cassidy lost her mother. Two days ago, men in a black SUV tried to snatch her off the street. Today, she's hiding over a hundred feet off the ground, on a research platform built around California redwoods.
Last night, Peter Ash was trekking through the forest with nothing but a pack on his back and the white static in his head—a souvenir from his tours in Afghanistan. So long as he sticks to wide open spaces, the static is manageable. It's only when he ventures indoors that the claustrophobia becomes too much to bear.
Perhaps that's a poor word choice because Peter finds himself stepping out of the mist and unexpectedly face-to-face with a grizzly bear. With no other option, he climbs the closest tree he can reach.
“Bad bear,” he called down. “You are a very bad bear.”
It settled itself at the base of the tree and began to enthusiastically disembowel the pack.
After an hour, Peter's two-week food supply was working its way through the entrepreneurial bear's digestive system, along with his emergency phone, long underwear, and fifty feet of climbing rope.
“Mr. Griz, you give the word 'omnivore' a whole new meaning,” Peter said from the safety of his high perch.
The bear then proceeded to entertain itself by shredding Peter's sleeping bag, rain gear, and spare clothing. Peter said a few bad words about the bear's mother.
With nowhere to go but up, Peter keeps climbing. At the top, he finds something he never could have expected: a desperate woman hiding from men in black SUVs. The pair barely have time to introduce themselves before they hear the gunfire.
Looks like June is going to need some help. Luckily for her, Peter Ash is no ordinary hiker...
It's one helluva rousing start, proving that with this second installment, Nicholas Petrie's Peter Ash series—like the titular character stuck in a redwood—is only going up. Before we even hit the page 70, we've had an attempted kidnapping, a thwarted bear attack, a daring escape over zip-lines hundreds of feet in the air, and a breathless car chase through the trees.
Leo DiCaprio wishes he could be this dramatic.
If we didn't already know what a badass Peter Ash was from his debut in The Drifter, Burning Bright not-so-casually reminds us a dozen times in this breakneck opening.
He climbed down to the dry riverbed, hurting all over but more or less functional. His forehead felt warm and wet. He put his hand up, felt the slickness of blood, and wiped it away, reminding himself that head wounds always bleed like crazy.
He knew too much about damage to human bodies.
He also knew that he would succeed at this next task only if he was the first to act.
...Peter wasn't worried about gas. He knew it only exploded in the movies. If it caught fire, he'd have some notice. He was worried about his leg, and the men he could neither see nor hear. He wanted them all to be dead so he wouldn't have to kill them.
He wanted at least one to be alive so he could ask some questions.
The tangled web Peter and June find themselves caught in is a real humdinger. Mad genius recluses. Black Ops teams that have gone off the reservation. Super intelligent algorithms. Spy drones. A sociopathic hitman.
It's enough to make you rethink tinfoil hats and living off the grid.
Action adventures starring former soldiers are a dime a dozen these days, but Petrie has reinvigorated the genre by keeping all of the best aspects and none of the bad ones. Ash is more Jason Bourne than James Bond (thank God): capable, ruthless when he needs to be, smart, and a good guy in every sense of the word, but he's not a macho misogynist swaggering with bravado. He's a badass with heart and a sense of humor.
“Machine learning ... looks at ways for software to teach itself how to best solve the problem.”
“That doesn't sound like a good idea,” said Peter. “Isn't that how we ended up with the Terminator?”
She raised her eyebrows. “If you'll recall,” she said, “that was a movie.”
“That was a documentary from the future,” said Peter. “I'm extremely concerned about the robot uprising. Those little self-directed vacuum cleaners are only the first wave.”
Plus, Peter's “white static,” a manifestation of war-time PTSD, makes him a very real man instead of an untouchable superhero. This dose of realism helps ground the character and the book and shows that Petrie doesn't care about glamorizing warfare. As a result, the series is a much more honest tribute to the men and women in the military.
The supporting cast is equally well-rounded and entertaining. June is tenacious, resilient, a born fighter, and a woman with an extremely colorful past. The baddies are opportunistic businessmen with hit squads on speed-dial and sociopathic assassins with an interest in growing tomatoes. Then, there are Peter's old military buddies who are willing to help when the going gets especially tough; my favorite is easily Lewis, the quick-talking hustler-turned-family-man first introduced in The Drifter.
Our heroes run from California rainforest to the drizzly streets of Seattle to hidden compounds deep in the mountains. The pace rarely lets up; even the less action-packed moments are rife with emotion and snappy dialogue. Petrie sprinkles in just enough technobabble and military jargon to let us know that he knows his material and give the proceedings that necessary ring of authenticity.
From start to finish, Burning Bright is a rollicking rollercoaster of an adventure. There's never a dull moment, making this the sort of read you'll speed through in one or two sittings—and it's just the thing for those who like their badasses infinitely capable with more than a little bit of heart.
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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.