Book Review : Erik Storey - Nothing Short of Dying (2016)
Erik Storey's debut novel Nothing Short of Dying is a thriller featuring hillbilly turned mercenary turned felon turned drifter Clyde Barr, who's on a quest to locate and secure his trouble making little sister Jen after an alarming and confusing phone call she made to him while he was out camping. Fresh out of a three years stint in a Mexican prison, Clyde launches himself into a tense and violent investigation and will let no man stop him until he finds Jen. He is deeply indebted to his little sister for keeping silence over something that happened in the past and Clyde Barr is a man who settles his goddamn debts. Kidnapping someone's little sister is like getting in a street fight, guys. Don't do it, because you never know who's well-trained and violent man's little sister you might've kidnapped.
Thrillers are a difficult genre to write. They're not that they're particularly subtle or sophisticated, but thrillers can turn into an endless series of lightweight fight scenes if they're not written by someone who knows what the hell he's doing. Fortunately, Erik Storey "gets" it and on a technical level, Nothing Short of Dying is nearly flawless. A good thriller is supposed to provide character exposition and development through action scenes and it takes skill to do it convincingly. There's a lot to pack in a couple of dialogue lines or in seemingly innocent gestures. Nothing Short of Dying's protagonist Clyde Barr is courageous, humble, too emotional and too trusting for his own sake. I've learned who he is through a series of fast-flowing action scenes. While it might've been a little winding at time (the Zeke chapters were fun but derivative), Erik Storey successfully wrote meaningful and self-reliant action scenes.
Perhaps the only major problem I had with Nothing Short of Dying was the exposition segments where Clyde Barr reminisces about his past. These segments (never full chapters) are meant to explain the nature of Clyde and Jen's relationship, but I thought they flat out didn't work. First, it breaks the rhythm of the novel and Nothing Short of Dying relies on rhythm to be successful. It never really settles into a scene and flows from a confrontation to another. But my main concern is that it create artificial and very much unneeded moral righteousness for Clyde Barr. I don't really need to know whether he's a good person or not. If he defends his sister from a potentially lethal situation it's good for me. I don't hold Erik Storey accountable for this issue, though. It's a problem with mainstream American storytelling at large and readers are as much to blame as writers. There's an ongoing, pathological need to be validated as the "good guy."
There has been (and will be) several comparisons made between Erik Storey and iconic author of the Jack Reacher novels Lee Child. They are inevitable both stylistically and because Child alluded that Reacher and Barr were in direct competition on cover blurb (way to go being supportive, Lee!) I've read both authors and while there are parallels to be made, Storey very much has his own thing going. The Reacher novels are first and foremost mysteries. They operate at a much slower and conventional pace than Nothing Short of Dying which is fast and furious. I may slightly prefer Child's intricate plots and story structure, but Clyde Barr is immensely more likable than fucking Jack Reacher and it would be unfair to settle on a comparison between a first time novelist and a one of the best-selling authors of our time. If you're into Jack Reacher, you probably ought to check out Erik Storey's Nothing Short of Dying but don't expect Lee Child worshiping because it isn't.
That's it, really. Nothing Short of Dying is not a very complicated novel. It doesn't dabble with profound ideas, but it doesn't pretend to either. It's a straightforward, fast-flowing thriller about a man haunted by his difficult upbringing, looking for redemption in violence because it's the only thing he's ever done correctly. I guess you could say the premise is stereotypical, but it's well-executed enough to be enjoyable. Novels like Nothing Short of Dying are not my cup of tea. I enjoy slower, more atmospheric material, but it was a quick read and a nice change of pace with my usual program and whenever I'll feel like another quick, nasty, high-body count novel, I'll see what Erik Storey is up to. If Nothing Short of Dying taught me anything, it's that he's a clever, patient and detail-oriented storyteller that takes great pride in his work.