By Nick Petrie
Putnam, $26, 432 pages
He calls the marauding bear Mr. Gritz and the bear would probably like to call him dinner. The woman who rescues him is an expert with a bow and arrow and her father is known as the Yeti.
The shadowy secret military operative is known as Tyger, a name stolen from a medieval poem that has emerged as a modern threat. And he suffers from a malady left over from his days as a U.S. Marine.
The world of Peter Ash is a terrifying place, and it is expertly drawn by Nick Petrie in “Burning Bright,” and he does indeed conjure up the specter from William Blake “Tyger tiger burning bright ” The book is a fast-paced thrilled awash in violence, but its characters have the strength to turn it into something different. Especially Ash, who is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in his laconic darkness as well as his appearance. He is matched by June Cassidy, who lives up to her determination to fight all comers and even stands up to her formidable father, otherwise known as the Yeti and what he is exploring in the world of science fiction despite his awareness that he has a damaged brain.
Yet the story focuses on June’s grief for her mother, a brilliant software designer who is murdered by the military mafia who are working for money and themselves and who have captured the mind of her father.
June understandably falls for the irresistible but dangerous Ash while making clear that, as she puts it, he is not her boss. She never lowers her standards, which are tied to a ferocious resolve to disentangle the strange life of her childhood. The death of her mother is partially explained by an email message bequeathing her daughter a poignant reminder of what has always been missing in her life, as well as crucial and menacing information about the mystery called Tyger.
June is as tough as her parents have trained her and she roams through the plot with a snarl on her lips proving she is the boss.
Her reunion with her troubled father leads to the information that her mother died before disclosing, and tragically becomes a revelation to her father as well as to her. He explains how their small research group investigating drones was taken over by an illegal government group and corrupted. As he says sadly, “I had some problems with the blood vessels in my brain. I forget things. Sometimes I get stuck in the past.” Yet, the man suffering from micro-seizures has struggled on and now June is his only hope. It occurs to Ash how agonizing it would be to discover the death of his wife for the first time, and then continue to discover details of it.
What was at stake, they discover, is an algorithm that was the first of its kind. What June sees as “the first true artificial intelligence.” She adds bleakly, “I told it to kill itself.”
And they look at the drones — “shimmering gold rings … that look like some version of the future.” June’s father explains that the new drone is “essentially a glider with an electric motor, Most of the time it just rides the wind — like a couple of geese flying in formation.
What makes Mr. Petrie’s plot most intriguing is its pivoting between the past and the present, while exploring the impact of such survival on characters like Ash and June Cassdy. It is a relief that it allows them to grow as characters and does not focus their relationship entirely on sex. It leaves open the possibility that they may not wind up together however much they would want to. June has as much of her father in her as her mother, which means she is prepared to give up what she wants for what she believes is most important in her life as well as that of Ash.
And Ash is enough of an adult to agree with her, He has too many flaws of his own to expect June to become in any way his caretaker. They have to do it together.
• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.