Review: Light It Up by Nick Petrie

Light It Up by Nick Petrie is the third thriller starring war veteran Peter Ash, where a well-planned and flawlessly executed hijacking reveals the hidden dangers of Colorado's mellowest business, and Ash may find there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

When we last saw Peter Ash—Iraq vet, capable outdoorsman, and an all-around decent guy—he’d just saved an investigative journalist from Black Ops mercenaries desperate for the world-shattering computer algorithm in her possession.

Light It Up picks up five months after the events of Burning Bright. Peter’s working on overcoming his PTSD-based claustrophobia while rebuilding hiking trails in Oregon. He’s determined to get better, though he knows it’ll be a long and winding road—because June Cassidy’s waiting at the end of it.

But all of his plans go awry when his friend Henry, a tough-as-nails Vietnam vet, asks for his help. Henry’s daughter has started a security company that protects legal cannabis growers in Colorado, and it seems modern-day highwaymen have started targeting her shipments.

Henry promises it’ll just be a couple runs. A few weeks in Colorado, some decent money in the bank, and a chance to strap on body armor and a gun again. Peter signs on—he’s never been able to turn a blind eye to a friend in need.

But the “simple job,” of course, is anything but, and Peter finds himself once again calling on his old skills, caught up in a dangerous long game rife with cutthroat businessmen and assassins with itchy trigger fingers.

…The truth was that he didn’t want to talk to the cops at all.

But avoiding the cops would be worse. It would limit his movements. It would make him a suspect, which would make it even harder to do what he wanted to do.

Which was to talk with Henry’s daughter about why and how somebody might hit her guys. Grill that grower to see if he was part of it. Track down the state trooper, real or fake, and make sure there was nobody else involved in the murder of his friends.

Then maybe beat that trooper to death.

It probably wasn’t what Don, his therapist in Eugene, would recommend. Not the best way to get the war out of his system.

But here he sat, with other men’s blood drying on his clothes.

Something had broken loose in him on that mountain. He could feel it, that restless urge toward the fight, like some clattering windup mechanism whose coiled spring never unwound.

It’s just who he was, that need to do something. To be of use.

Of all the action heroes to hit bookstores in the post-Bourne era, none have been quite as likable or compelling as Peter Ash. He’s not a suave secret agent like Bond—for starters, he’s vastly more sympathetic. He doesn’t go looking for trouble like Jack Reacher. He’s not as slick or charming as Ethan Hunt.

No, he’s a straightforward guy who’d prefer to be gentle and quiet and build something with his hands. In Peter’s perfect world, he’d be left to his morning coffee in peace and spend his nights cooking for June.

Peter was tall and rangy, muscle and bone, nothing extra. He had wide, knuckly hands and a lean, angular face, his dark hair long enough to cover the tips of his slightly pointed ears. He had the thoughtful eyes of a werewolf a week before the change.

Unfortunately, the world too often needs the bloody skills he honed during the war, and he’s too good of a guy to walk away from anyone in need. It’s that decency that sets Peter Ash apart; he’s a hardened badass, yes. He can think on the fly, spring unexpected surprises on the baddies, and is more than capable of slitting a man’s throat when he has to.

But he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t enjoy the actual blood and guts of what he does, the tactile sensation of tugging a knife or pulling a trigger. He pays a price for being a competent killer: his claustrophobic PTSD, nightmares, physical tics, and the fear that he may be too broken to ever have a normal life or relationship.

He feels what he does, unlike so many other action protagonists who shrug off brutality and calmly pick up another disposable woman at the nearest bar. (Speaking of: I’m incredibly grateful that Petrie didn’t have June be such a throwaway love interest; she’s a fantastic hero in her own right, and keeping her an important part of Peter’s life makes them both more compelling and complicated.)

All of this means our rugged hero is a real and relatable person. He’s the product of a flawed military system—society has made him what he is, and sometimes, that’s not a good thing.

Author Nick Petrie does a superb job of balancing this philosophic angst and societal commentary with adrenaline-pounding action. There’s hardly a wasted line of filler in the entire book; everything adds to the story, the characters, and the danger. And the pace of the story starts at a fast clip and rarely slows down, making this a quick yet incredibly satisfying read.

A hero is only as good as his villains, and Peter’s baddies are some seriously bad hombres. Some have understandable, tragic motivations. Others are just pure psychopaths. But they’re all equally matched on this deadly playing field. There are very real consequences for our heroes and moments of pure panic and horror mixed in with Peter’s competent badassery.

Peter stepped carefully across the gravel to the big American sedan with a familiar profile…

The smell was unmistakable, deeply lodged in Peter’s memory from his years at war. Burned plastic and something like roasted pork, made worse because you knew it was human flesh. It stuck in the nose and back of the throat like a physical thing.

The brain knew what it knew.

Death was death.

Peter looked closer and saw that the seat buckles were connected, the diagonal remains of the strap melted, sagging but still visible. The man had been belted in. Something about that was especially disturbing.

The trunk yawned open. Peter stepped around and saw the remains of three more bodies tucked into the trunk. They lay on their sides, their contours aligned, their limbs entwined like lovers.

The man in the trooper’s uniform had come down the mountain with his dead. He’d driven them around the city. Had probably stopped for dinner while Peter went fifteen rounds with the cops. Then chased Peter and Miranda with the corpses of his comrades in his car.

It’s been a long year waiting for this third installment in the Peter Ash series, and Light It Up proved to be well worth the wait. As much as I want Peter to find some real peace and happiness, I also can’t help but hope Petrie continues to find new jams to thrust him into.

 

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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.

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