- - Thursday, August 17, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A PROMISE TO KILL

By Erik Storey

Scribner, $26, 288 pages

Erik Storey’s “A Promise To Kill” is without a doubt one of the best thrillers of the year.

Last year his “Nothing Short of Dying” was widely hailed as the best debut novel in the mystery/crime/thriller genre and his second book released this week equals — some of us will say surpasses — his impressive first.

Clyde Barr. Remember that name. The protagonist who became an international favorite in “Nothing Short of Dying” returns in “A Promise To Kill.” He deserves to become as well-known and faithfully-followed a fictional hero as, say, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, to whom readers and reviewers so frequently and so favorably compare him.

A loner/drifter, he is tough-as-tough-gets with lethal skills from a life filled with hellish violence. He longs for a peaceful life of solitude with the freedom to wander the wilderness as he wishes. He’s not one to go seeking trouble, but his strong sense of right versus wrong and sympathy for any picked-on underdog have a way of bringing trouble to him.

As “A Promise To Kill” opens, Clyde Barr is riding his mare and leading a pack mule on a road across the lowlands of southeast Utah heading north not much caring where. For the second time in less than two miles he sees an old Ute from the nearby Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation, the same one who earlier had waved him over for a brief friendly conversation. This time the old Ute is collapsed against the steering wheel of his rusty old pickup truck that’s idling in a ditch and his heart is giving out.

While this should have amounted to nothing more for Clyde Barr than using his cellphone to call for an ambulance, waiting for medical help to arrive, and then moving on, instead it marks the beginning of another against-all-odds conflict every bit as terrifying as the frightening ordeal that had interrupted a previous trek into the wilderness.

Because his cellphone isn’t working he enters a run-down building in the reservation’s tiny town seeking one to use and finds the place packed with loud, burly bikers — hardest of the hard — not one of them an Indian. “Let him die,” says the motorcycle gang leader when Clyde Barr announces that he has an old man with him who’s in critical condition. “When our club rolls into a little town like yours, we own it. We make the rules and we make the demands.”

Barely in time he gets the old man to the hospital and while waiting around becomes acquainted with his family. His daughter is a doctor who runs the reservation’s clinic. Her husband was killed in Afghanistan. She and her 15-year-old son help the old man run a small farm. Clyde Barr signs on to help the family keep the farm running until the old man can return to work.

Why would a violent motorcycle gang descend upon a remote Indian reservation when few other spots in this country are so impoverished and offer so little to do? And why are they lingering so long?

It gnaws at Clyde Barr. The Utes feel helpless and put up with abuse after abuse hoping it will soon pass. But he begins sticking up for abused Utes. Soon he and the bikers are at war. And then he and the old man’s daughter discover what it is that is keeping the bikers around — and it’s terrifying almost beyond belief. What follows is the work of a true master of the thriller novel.

Extraordinarily well-written and well-crafted, “A Promise To Kill” is exciting, entertaining, plausible, realistic, and moves along flawlessly with just the right amount of backstory. Characters are well-drawn, dialogue is exceptionally good and there are exquisite landscape descriptions.

The author also happens to be someone who has solid knowledge of and great respect for the American Indian which leads him to inform readers why America’s Indians are so badly served by law enforcement and why the tepee is the world’s best designed tent.

This is a truly great thriller — so full of nail-biting suspense and surprises and fast-paced action that it actually is difficult to put down. Erik Story is not just a really good writer — he’s a great one. (Each of his Clyde Barr novels can be read as a standalone work.)

This reader can’t wait for his next novel — also can’t wait for Hollywood to wake up and realize what great movies could be made from his first two.

• Fred J. Eckert, a former Republican congressman from New York who served as U.S ambassador to Fiji and the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture, is the author of “Hank Harrison for President” (Vandamere).


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